Israeli Government Funding Dig in Palestinian Hebron, Near Jewish Enclave

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The Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the construction of an archaeological park on the ancient site of Tel Rumeida, near the tiny Jewish settlement in Hebron.

A joint delegation of the Antiquities Authority and Ariel University are due to begin construction work on Sunday at the site, located in the heart of the Palestinian city.

The work is expected to continue at least until the end of the year at an estimated cost of NIS 7 million.

Since the 1990s no significant excavation has been carried out in Tel Rumeida, the city’s historic core. In recent months the Jewish settlers approached several senior archaeologists and urged them to renew the digs. Many turned them down, until it was decided on the joint delegation, headed by archeologist Emanuel Eisenberg of the Antiquities Authority and Dr. David Ben Shlomo of Ariel University.

The archaeology officer of the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration is in charge of authorizing the permit for the excavation.

The six-dunam excavation site is owned by Jews, but until the second intifada the Palestinian family of Abu Haikal, who was a protected tenant, farmed the lands in the area. However, following the deterioration in the security situation, the family was banned from farming the land.

The Hebron settlers see the site as the burial ground of Yishai, King David’s father, and Ruth the Moabite, King David’s great grandmother. Past excavations at the site revealed fortifications and findings dated to the early Bronze Age, some 3,500 years B.C.E. and up to the Ottoman rule. Findings from biblical times were also discovered.

Left-wing activists see the excavation as a further expansion of the Jewish settlement in Hebron at a sensitive stage in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“It’s expanding the settlement under the guise of archaeological digs,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary general of Peace Now. “Under Kerry’s nose the defense minister is allowing the settlers to expand and change the status quo in the most explosive spot in the West Bank.”

“The dig in Tel Rumeida is another case of exploiting an antiquities site for the political struggle,” said archaeologist Yoni Mizrahi of Emek Shaveh, a group of left-leaning archaeologists.

“Like the sites of Ir David and Sussia, now they’re using Hebron’s ancient site as a political means to strengthen the Israeli settlement. We cannot understand how they can dig in one of the most conflicted cities in the region and claim the dig is not political,” said Mizrahi.

The Antiquities Authority said, “The authority is working in cooperation with the archaeology officer. In the past, excavations have been carried out in Hebron, including at this site. As the leading professional archaeology institution, the authority is prepared for large-scale excavations, as required in this one.”

The Civil Administration said, “The Antiquities Authority has been carrying out rescue excavations in Tel Hebron, following the Hebron settlers’ initiative to develop an archaeological park open to the public. The administration is endeavoring as a matter of routine to protect, develop and carry out rescue digs regardless of the future of these sites and the arrangement to be carried out in the future.”

Hebron, July 2013.Credit: Alex Levac

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