Last week's despoilment and devastation at the Negev's Avdat National Park, the most important Nabatean site after Petra, was shocking. UNESCO declared Avdat a World Heritage Site in 2005, but that distinction all too evidently did not bestow immunity upon it. Many of Avdat's ancient walls were daubed with black oily paint. Columns which had endured for nearly two millennia were smashed. Debris from shattered artifacts littered the compound. There is a link between this incident of extreme vandalism and the recent seething unrest in Jerusalem arising from contentions that Israel aims to sabotage the mosques atop the Temple Mount via archeological digs. Though implausible by any rational yardstick, these accusations more than sufficed for rabble-rousing purposes. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took pains to stress that charges that Israel is conducting archeological digs under the Temple Mount are entirely spurious. The very need to stress what is self-evident even to the very inciters, who deliberately inflame passions, speaks volumes. Archeology is again being manipulated into a focus of contention. In these lands, a vital, fascinating, constructive academic pursuit is now intrinsically controversial. Digging up this country's past is an act of universal value, and also one fundamentally associated with Zionist identity. The land is bound up with the Jews who for over 3,000 years made it their cultural-religious hub. Enemies of renascent Jewish sovereignty, therefore, habitually seek to frustrate any endeavor they fear might underscore the connection they seek to minimize or, as is lately the case, deny altogether. Increasingly, archeological sites are being identified by Arab propagandists as places of Zionist interest. They are targeted for the same goals as anything deemed to be an Israeli interest in the economic, judicial and cultural spheres. Ironically the saboteurs sometimes fail to discriminate between the Jewish and non-Jewish. Avdat happens to be Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine. But the vandals' guiding premise is that there is justification to vent fury upon anything which Israelis esteem. Paradoxically, those who would deny any ancient Jewish link to this land are precisely the ones who accentuate the connection. Perhaps that is why the hatred is so visceral and brutal. THE WANTON destruction of untold archeological treasures by bulldozers on the Temple Mount is a case in point. The dumping in recent years of tons of uprooted layers of the Mount down the slopes as so much refuse was a calculated act of desecration - less immediately dramatic but arguably of no smaller significance that the Taliban's dynamiting of Afghanistan's giant Buddhist statues. Then there is the ongoing vandalism against tombstones on the Mount of Olives, a veritable Jewish pantheon. Apologists will always find pretexts for each outrage and attempt to delink it from similar offences. Thus after two Beduin men were arraigned for the Avdat atrocity, it was argued by some that blame for the damage ultimately rested with Israel's law-enforcement: Shortly before the rampage, ostensibly provoking it, several illegally constructed Beduin buildings were demolished near Mitzpe Ramon. Such reasoning is unacceptable. The legal process that leads to the demolition of illegal structures is complex and generally protracted. The authorities often turn a blind eye to unlawful construction in the Arab sector. The minority of cases pursued are interminably dragged through the courts, with appeal chasing appeal. Only after the arduous process has been completed do the police carry out court orders. Frequently, even when armed with all the legal paperwork, the top brass prefer not to press ahead. To rationalize retaliation against the upholding of the law is to undermine the rule of law. And wrath poured on unique antiquities is altogether reprehensible, indefensible and unpardonable. Once mutilated, ancient sites can never be fully restored. They are civilization's treasure. Striking at them is a repudiation of civilization. In practical terms, it's high time Israel's powers-that-be come to grips with the reality that even what might be considered most universally precious is not sacrosanct. And the fact that Israel might hold something dear, unfortunately renders it a target. Archeological sites must henceforth be protected like any high-security area, and deterrent punishments enacted against barbarians who deface humanity's heritage.