Beit Shemesh Scraps Plan for New Neighborhood Near Archaeological Site

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Archaeologists standing at a Hirbet Kaifeh.
Hirbet Kaifeh, 2013. One of the more intriguing archaeological sites in Israel in recent years.Credit: Tali Mayer

The city of Beit Shemesh, outside Jerusalem, has scrapped plans to build a new neighborhood near an archaeological site in the Elah Valley.

According to the plan, 1,200 apartments would be built near the important excavation of Hirbet Kaifeh, the site of an ancient city overlooking the valley that was uncovered in 2007. The plan was part of a dramatic extension of Beit Shemesh in the direction of the Elah Valley, which was to include 15,000 apartments altogether.

Excavations at Hirbet Kaifeh have uncovered traces which archaeologists say date back to King David’s era. Consequently, it was decided several years ago not to build the neighborhood near the site, as planned, but in the area of the Elah Valley national park where other construction is already underway.

The Beit Shemesh municipality appealed the decision to the Regional Planning Committee, saying that construction according to the original plan was important for the expansion of the city, in keeping with national and local planning goals.

Local residents established a nonprofit organization to oppose the appeal. They proposed turning the area, a continuous stretch of hilly landscape, into a national park called “the Land of David.” According to the Bible it is where David fought and killed Goliath.

The NGO was joined by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority, both of which opposed the municipality’s appeal. They argued that there was genereal agreement that the area in question had high ecological and cultural value, with beautiful landscape and globally important archaeological sites. Instead, they said, it should be preserved as a national park.

Dr. Yuval Baruch, of the Antiquities Authority, wrote to the committee that the archaeological site had to be separated from the city by a buffer zone of natural landscape.

About 10 days ago, the Beit Shemesh municipality decided to withdraw its appeal and cancelled the plan to build the neighborhood.

The Hirbet Kaifeh excavation, conducted by Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been one of the more intriguing archaeological sites in Israel in recent years.

Garfinkel and Ganor exposed a fortress dating back to the 10th century BCE – the days of King David’s rule. The findings indicated that the kingdom expanded in that era at least up to the Judea plain and was not a local princedom in the Jerusalem region, as some archaeologists believe.

In view of the findings, archaeologists of all schools demanded that the construction be halted and that the archaeological site be combined with the national park planned for the area.

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