The shutdown of enforcement activity in Judea and Samaria due to the coronavirus pandemic is causing untold, irreversible damage to the historical record and to world heritage sites in Israel’s biblical heartland. Grave robbers and antiquities thieves are enjoying complete freedom from watchful eyes, and are taking advantage of the suspension of oversight and enforcement activity to carry out illegal digs and excavations on an unprecedented scale.
‘Preserving the Eternal,’ a watchdog group dedicated to protecting Israel’s archaeological treasures, calls upon Minister of Defense Bennett to get inspectors back on the job – before even more damage is done.
In response to the corona pandemic, the Civil Administration has cut back enforcement activity by 70%, and in the weeks that have passed since the near-shutdown began, antiquities thieves and treasure hunters have been on an unfettered rampage in the archaeological sites throughout Judea and Samaria.
Last week, members of “Preserving the Eternal,” a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the physical record of Israel’s history in Judea and Samaria, reported on pirate excavations on an unprecedented scale at a cave located in the Har Kabir Nature Reserve, between Elon Moreh and the Jordan Valley (in Area C, under full Israeli jurisdiction).
In a follow-up inspection of the site yesterday (Tuesday), ‘Preserving the Eternal’ staffers discovered that over the past week, three new openings had been dug into the cave, bored through the stone wall that protected the depths of the cave and its irreplaceable artifacts.
Unfortunately, this was not the only report in recent days of massive damage to now-unprotected archaeological sites: Ein Samia in the eastern Binyamin region, where particularly rare and unique artifacts have been found, is currently undergoing an onslaught of destruction at the hands of treasure hunters.
The tel at Ein Samia, also known as Khirbet Marjama, houses the remains of a city dated to the Israelite Kingdom era, and excavations carried out in the past uncovered particularly rare 4000 year – old Middle Bronze Age artifacts, including a wide fortification wall and tower, shaft tombs, and a silver goblet adorned with a scene containing Mesopotamian motifs.
Recently, an Arab-owned quarry, operating in the Palestinian Authority-controlled area adjacent to Ein Samia, began to encroach on the nature reserve, and is threatening the site with ecological and aesthetic destruction.
“Preserving the Eternal” alerted the Chief Archaeology Officer to a team of thieves that had been digging at Khirbet ‘Alamit near the entrance to Jerusalem, and through a swift, concerted effort the band of thieves was apprehended, as was another crew – caught at Ein Samia when the Chief Archaeology Officer took swift action on the information provided by ‘Preserving the Eternal.’
“The State of Israel is now in a full-scale battle against the coronavirus pandemic, but we must not lose sight of the day after. We cannot neglect our eternal treasures,” says Eitan Melet, Director of Operations for ‘Preserving the Eternal.’ “The freedom of movement currently enjoyed by antiquities thieves proves that archaeology inspectors are vital workers who must remain on the job and out in the field – and there should be many more of them on the job. We call upon Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett to return them to their posts without delay.”