Road Construction in Palestinian Town Near Nablus Damages Important Archaeological Site

Some experts claim the site is home to the biblical altar erected by Joshua; local authorities say contractor damaged ancient stone wall in course of work

Nir Hasson
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The archaeological site on Mount Ebal, which some archaeologists say is Joshua's altar, erected in biblical times.
The archaeological site on Mount Ebal, which some archaeologists say is Joshua's altar, erected in biblical times.Credit: Moti Milrod
Nir Hasson

Road construction work carried out has caused damage to an important archaeological site on Mount Ebal, near Nablus. According to the right-wing Israeli organization Shomrim al Hanetzach, the work was overseen by officials from the West Bank Palestinian town of Asira al—Shamaliya, and was carried out in recent weeks. The town’s mayor, Hazem Yassin, said the contractor who did the road work was responsible for the damage and that the municipal government had not been aware of the incident.

The Mount Ebal archaeological site is considered one of the most important in the northern West Bank. Excavations there in the 1980s led by the Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal revealed a large stone structure that has been dated to the beginning of the Iron Age, the 13th and 12th centuries B.C.E., and the site is surrounded by a low wall. Zertal identified the structure as the altar that, according to the Bible, Joshua built at the beginning of the period of Israelite settlement there.

Zertal’s claim is disputed by other Israeli archaeologists, some of whom don’t believe that it is a site of religious ritual at all, while others agree that it is a ritual site but say it cannot be associated with a specific figure from the Bible. In any event, it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.

It is located in Area B of the West Bank, the portion under Israeli military control but the civilian control of the Palestinian Authority. As a result, the archaeological staff officer at Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank does not have oversight authority there.

On Wednesday, the Israeli organization Shomrim al Hanetzach released drone footage showing bulldozers destroying portions of the perimeter wall at the archaeological site as well as photos on its Facebook page that purport to show that stones from the site were being ground into gravel.

The group said that about two months ago, in response to an official question posed by Knesset member Michal Shir Segman (New Hope), Michael Biton, a minister at the Defense Ministry, responded that the work had been approved by the Civil Administration and there had been no damage to the archaeological site.

Yassin, the mayor of Asira al-Shamaliya, told Haaretz that municipal officials had not been aware that the wall was part of the archaeological site. Since the problem was brought to his attention, he and the Israeli Civil Administration inspected the site together and agreed that the town government would restore the stones to the site, he said.

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