The Palestinian assault on Jewish history and heritage - opinion

Hundreds of cherished Jewish sites in the Land of Israel which survived 2,000 years are being systematically destroyed right under our noses by the Palestinians. 

 PALESTINIANS BURN tires near Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus as thousands of Jews visit, July 2019. (photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)
PALESTINIANS BURN tires near Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus as thousands of Jews visit, July 2019.
(photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)

If anyone still has doubts about the Palestinian Authority’s determination to erase all traces of Israel’s ancient Jewish heritage, an important new report should lay to rest any such uncertainties.

The 65-page document, entitled “National Heritage Survey” and published by the Shilo Forum and the Shomrim al HaNetzach (“Preserving the Eternal”) organization, examined a selection of 365 of the most important national and cultural Jewish archaeological and historical sites in Judea and Samaria.

The findings are nothing less than shocking and infuriating and require immediate attention from Israel’s government.

Simply put, hundreds of cherished Jewish sites in the Land of Israel which survived 2,000 years of Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman occupation are being systematically destroyed right under our noses by the Palestinians

The report, which has not received the widespread attention it deserves in the Israeli and international press, found that 289 sites, representing a whopping 80% of those surveyed, have been damaged or destroyed.

These include sites dating back to biblical times, as well as those from the Second Temple, Herodian and Hasmonean periods.

 Second Temple Period quarry uncovered in Jerusalem at Har Hotzvim, September 2021. (credit: SHAI HALEVI / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY) Second Temple Period quarry uncovered in Jerusalem at Har Hotzvim, September 2021. (credit: SHAI HALEVI / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

Consider the following examples:

Outside of Jericho, in an area under Israeli control, is the second largest ancient Jewish burial ground in all of Israel. Dating back to the Second Temple period, it is spread out over an enormous area adjacent to a Hasmonean palace and contains a vast complex of dozens of burial caves which were used for two centuries and where an estimated 100,000 Jews were buried.

For years, grave robbers and other hoodlums have been damaging and demolishing the burial grounds, leaving the graves of our ancestors desecrated and their bones scattered about.

And yet, as Channel 12 news reported on September 9, the ongoing vandalism of the site continues apace with little or no effort being made by Israeli authorities to stop it.

Another major site under Palestinian assault is Tel Aroma in Samaria, where a spectacular Hasmonean palace stood, one of eight that was established by the dynasty to defend Israel’s eastern boundary.

Exploiting the coronavirus lockdowns over the past year, the Palestinian Authority seized control over Tel Aroma and brought in heavy engineering equipment to pave a road over parts of the ruins, thereby causing inestimable damage. Adding insult to injury, they then had the gall to hold a formal ceremony and declare the palace, which was built by the descendants of the Maccabees, to be a “Palestinian Heritage Site.”

Indeed, it appears that the guiding hand behind much of the wanton destruction of Jewish historical and religious sites is none other than the regime of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. 

“The Palestinian Authority not only doesn’t preserve and protect heritage sites, but it is responsible for some 90% of the attacks on them,” says the report.

This is nothing less than a concerted campaign by the Palestinian Authority, our ostensible “peace partners,” to systematically destroy tangible evidence of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.

It is an assault on history and on the truth and it must be stopped.

And the phenomenon described in the report is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, the survey examined a representative sample of just 365 out of the more than 10,000 Jewish historical and archaeological sites that have been found thus far throughout Judea and Samaria, ranging from ancient synagogues to Jewish cemeteries to palaces erected by the kings of Israel.

Who knows what other treasures have been looted, pillaged and ransacked?

Sadly, successive Israeli governments have failed to devote the time, marshal the resources or even wage a diplomatic offensive to put an end to the Palestinian campaign.

And so, not so slowly and very surely, the historical sites which serve as tangible witnesses to our ancient ties to this land are being methodically and meticulously erased.

For far too long, Israel has inculcated in the Palestinians a sense of impunity when it comes to vandalizing or defiling Jewish historical and holy sites, and this must change.

Ever since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians have been serially abusing our heritage, from digging up the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to attacking and burning Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus).

It should be clear to all that the Palestinians cannot be entrusted with safeguarding or administering Jewish historical sites under any circumstances whatsoever.

The State of Israel needs to assume and assert responsibility for the national and historical heritage of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria.

There is a limit to what a nation can be expected to tolerate when its history repeatedly comes under attack. And our patience should have surpassed that limit long ago.

Such a step would send a clear and unequivocal message to the Palestinians that there is a price to be paid for their actions. And we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to preserve and protect the relics of our glorious past.

With every day that passes, the Palestinian abuse of Israel’s heritage, and all we hold dear, continues. This cannot and must not be tolerated anymore. 

The writer served as deputy communications director under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.