Hebron Archaeological Site Won't Be Leased to Settlers, Says State

Settlers intended to establish an archaeological and tourism park on the site, which has been excavated by Israel Antiquities Authority and Ariel University over past two years.

AFP

The army’s Civil Administration in the West Bank will cancel an agreement to lease land to the Hebron Jewish settlement for the creation of an archaeological park, the state informed the High Court of Justice Tuesday, saying recent discoveries there compel the state to retain control over the site.

The land is in Tel Rumeida, on the western edge of the area of the city under Israeli control. It is largely a Palestinian agricultural and residential area, with an archeological site that some scholars believe to be the location of biblical Hebron.

The settlers intended to establish an archeological and tourism park on the site, which has been excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ariel University over the past two years.

Agricultural terraces from the Second Temple period and the remains of an ancient city wall dating back 3,800 years have recently been found there.

Prior to the start of the dig, an agreement was reached between the civil administration and an NGO named the Association for Renewed Jewish Settlement in Hebron. Under the agreement, the state leased the land to the NGO to establish the archaeological park.

The existence of the agreement became known during a court petition against the park by the Palestinian municipality of Hebron, Palestinian residents and the organizations Emek Shaveh and Breaking the Silence.

The petitioners maintained that the land had been leased to the settlers without a tender and in contravention of other standard procedures. They argued that the Palestinian residents of Hebron should have responsibility for the park.

In its response to the petition, which was submitted last Wednesday, the state made a commitment on behalf of the Civil Administration to cancel the lease agreement. The state explained that the findings discovered during the dig constituted a fundamental change of circumstances and made it impossible to lease the area to the settlers.

The Civil Administration explained that the basis for signing the agreement was two government decisions from the 1990s calling for the strengthening of the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

Emek Shaveh welcomed the government’s statement. The organization maintains that the planned archaeological park in Tel Rumeida, like the national park at David’s City in Jerusalem and the Tel Shilo national park, are political efforts by the settlers to use archaeology to move them closer to the Israeli consensus.

“The ruling that the agreement would have to be brought to the attorney general means that even the Civil Administration understands that it is not possible to hand out ancient sites to the settlers according to their demands and political pressure,” the petitioners said in a statement.