Defense Minister Benny Gantz rejected a request to allow the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to inspect the damage done to the exterior walls at the biblical site of Joshua’s altar in the West Bank.
Such a visit, Gantz told committee chairman Zvi Hauser, would be political in nature, particularly given that only the exterior wall had been damaged and that the site itself had not been harmed.
Gantz, who is also the alternate prime minister and heads the Blue and White Party, noted that the IDF had toured the site located in Area B of the West Bank. It had spoken, Gantz said, with the Asira ash-Shamaliya council, whose workers had damaged the wall, while building a new connecting road to Nablus, also known by its biblical name of Shechem.
The Asira ash-Shamaliya council had apologized for the damage, and the wall has since been repaired, Gantz wrote.
“I won’t allow IDF soldiers to be used as the backdrop for an election campaign, during a period when the IDF is busy executing real missions to preserve human life,” Gantz wrote.
Yamina Party head MK Naftali Bennett has already been to the site, which is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, to film a short video clip in which he compared the PA to ISIS.
Hauser, who sits in the Knesset as part of the Derech Eretz Party, has since joined the New Hope Party, which is Yamina’s right-wing rival.
The Right has focused on the damage to the site, as a physical reminder of its larger concern that the PA is destroying Jewish archaeology in the West Bank so that it can erase evidence of ancient Jewish ties to the land.
Archaeologists themselves are divided on the significance of the site, although they concur that it dates back to the Iron Age, including the exterior wall that was damaged.
Hauser wrote back to Gantz to say he was “saddened and disappointed” by his letter. Gantz’s words, Hauser said, showed a “poor understanding of the nature of universal heritage spaces” and “the principles of preservation.”
Hauser said he believes that if a public storm had not arisen over the initial damage, the entire site would have been destroyed. The harm caused to archaeological sites and the neglect of them are well-known phenomena in Judea and Samaria, he said.
The committee’s role is to investigate and debate matters of national significance, such as this one, Hauser said. Despite Gantz’s decision to ban the committee’s visit, it still plans to hold a debate on the matter, he said.
Separately, MK Uzi Dayan (Likud) plans to hold a tour of the site on Sunday.