Battling to protect Crusader battlefield

Protesters demonstrate against plan to decommission Horns of Hattin national park.

Horns of Hittin (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Horns of Hittin
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli archaeologists regularly discover invaluable relics of bygone civilizations. Whether a coin, a mosaic floor or a ritual bath, these finds often generate great excitement and media attention. But the joy of discovery is fast disappearing as the country’s decision makers ignore the past as they pave the countryside, destroying historic sites to make way for high-rises.
Among the most recent sacrifices of history on the altar of progress is the Horns of Hattin in the Lower Galilee. Here on an arid plateau atop an extinct volcano on July 4, 1187, the Ayyubid forces of Saladin massacred a Crusader army. The history is well documented, and the battlefield today is preserved as the Karnei Hittin (Horns of Hattin) National Park.
But the 200-hectare site won’t remain a national park for much longer if a government decision to build a Druze town on the site, taken three years ago and ratified recently, is implemented.
The proposed town adjoins Nebi Shu’eib, the mosque-like shrine nestled at the base of the Horns of Hattin, which houses the traditional tomb of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, (Exodus 3:1), who is a prophet in the Druze tradition. But academics, local residents, tour guides, archaeologists and naturally the Israel Antiquities Authority want the government to find an alternative location for new community, notwithstanding the Druze holy site.
On Monday, 20 activists against the decommissioning of the national park demonstrated at Gaza Road and Ben Maimon Boulevard in Jerusalem around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence. Protest organizer Genadiy Nizhnik-Kolomilychuk, who came dressed as a Crusader wearing a red tunic over his suit of armor, said that he wants the decision makers in the government to think again about what they were doing “before they go to hell.”
Also dressed as a knight was Dmitri Sklarenko. The two belong to the Historical Re-Enactment Group of the Jerusalem Kingdom, many of whose members are originally from Russia.
Blowing his Crusader horn, Nizhnik-Kolomilychuk called on the public not to let history disappear.
Nati Rosenzweig, the secretary of Kibbutz Lavi near the Horns of Hattin, said the Druze community is unhappy with the government’s decision to build a new town. “They would prefer an extension of the areas in which they live, or for the town to be built closer to the center of the country,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “The only member of the Druze community who’s really happy with the situation is Ayoub Kara, because he’s making political capital out of it.”
According to Rosenzweig, at least eight other options exist to build a new town without destroying a valuable historic site.
Prof. Adrian Boas, a University of Haifa expert on the Crusades, said that he does not usually participate in demonstrations but the issue is so important that he made an exception.
“Preserving historic sites should be important to everyone, because they are national treasures,” he said.
“We cannot repair the damage once it’s done,” he stated. “We have to do everything we can to preserve this and other historic sites.”