A large number of archaeological sites in the West Bank, including many that are part of Jewish history and tradition, will be placed or remain under Palestinian control according to US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, Yediot Aharonot reported Tuesday.
The government is discussing annexation of parts of the West Bank in connection with the plan. The move, which would extend Israeli law and sovereignty over parts of Israeli-controlled Area C, is supposed to begin as early as July 1.
Military sources place the number of archaeological sites in Area C at 3,000.
According to data provided by Preserving the Eternal, which describes itself as a network of entities devoted to “protect antiquities in Israel and Judea and Samaria,” there are about 6,000 sites of historical and archaeological importance in the area. They include some 2,300 that are officially cataloged as protected archaeological sites, it said.
On the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories English website, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Archaeology Unit describes the sites in Judea and Samaria as “among the most significant sites within the history and culture of the region and the world at large” and as the “cornerstones of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history.”
Their list includes some of the most renowned archaeological treasures in the region, such as the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and Herodion.
Specifically, Preserving the Eternal has surveyed about 365 sites that it describes as having major importance for their connection to Israel’s national heritage. Of them, 258 are located in Area C.
The organization warned that based on maps released in the context of the Trump peace plan, 135 of these sites will be transferred to Palestinian control if the plan is implemented in its entirety, in addition to those in areas A and B that are already under Palestinian control.
Among those notable sites are the Hasmonean fortresses in Horkania, Kypros and near Jericho; Shomron, also known as Sebastia, the capital of the biblical Kingdom of Israel; the Jewish necropolis near Jericho; the ancient synagogue uncovered in Tel Maon; Tel Hebron; Tel Maon; and Shiloh.
In the past, Preserving the Eternal often has denounced how archaeological sites under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority have not been adequately protected and preserved, as required by the Oslo Accords, not only suffering from looting and vandalism but also being damaged by construction projects.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Naomi Kahn, director of the Preserving the Eternal International Division, said she was concerned about what is currently happening to sites under PA control and what might happen under further implementation of the plan.
“Our problem is what it is going to happen in all the areas that are not slated for the extension of Israeli law,” she said. “The issue for us is not about the extension of the Israeli law that they are discussing now, but the next phases of the plan.”
Many sites that are not connected to Jewish history are at risk and have been damaged, but Jewish sites have been specifically targeted, Kahn said.
“Preserving the Eternal is completely dedicated to the protection of archaeological sites,” she said. “Anything that will promote it, we are in favor of. So we are in favor of extending Israeli law over the area because we believe it will further the goal. But we are not a political organization, and we are not addressing the larger questions related to the peace plan.”
Dr. Dvir Raviv from Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology also expressed concern over the situation of the sites in the West Bank. He has done extensive work in the region.
“Most of the sites are very damaged from looting activities, mostly from Palestinian villages,” Raviv told the Post. “For sites that could be transferred or remain under Palestinian control, the situation risks getting worse.
“During some of the most important historical periods in the region, Iron Age II, Second Temple and Byzantine eras, this area was inhabited by Jewish people, and many sites are part of the Jewish heritage. But preserving them is essential not only from the Jewish point of view, but also for the world, without forgetting that they are also very important in the Christian tradition.”
Archaeological activities conducted under Israeli auspices in the West Bank have been harshly criticized by the PA. In May, the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called such activities a crime after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal submitted by Israeli NGOs Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din and ruled that Israel was under no obligation to release information about excavations in the areas, the Media Line reported.
In 2017, the two organizations published a report devoted to the topic of Israel archaeological practices in the West Bank, describing them as “intended to prove and to strengthen the historical, religious and cultural affinity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to the West Bank in an attempt to appropriate history and efface the heritage and historical narratives of other peoples and cultures.”
Asked to comment on the potential consequences of the Trump peace plan, Emek Shaveh CEO Yonatan Mizrahi told the Post he believes archaeological sites are supposed to belong to the whole of humanity regardless of their cultural affiliation.
The sites should be managed by the authorities governing over the territories they are located in, he said, meaning the Israelis for sites in Israel and the Palestinians for those in the territories, the same way each country manages their own sites in Europe or in America.
Mizrahi acknowledged that some looting or damages are currently happening, “but my understanding is that we are talking about people who are interested in making a living. The issue is not political, although I do not have data supporting it.”
“If the Israeli and Palestinian authorities were to speak, I think a solution could be found to protect and managed the sites,” he said, adding that he took issue with “Israel’s nationalistic approach.”
The government is yet to decide and release the details of West Bank territories that possibly will be annexed starting in July.
The issue of archaeological sites was supposed to be discussed during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday afternoon, but it was removed from the agenda due to time constraints.