A watchtower dating from the time of the Kingdom of Judah (8th century BCE – during the reign of King Hezekiah) was recently uncovered by archaeological excavations carried out by IDF soldiers, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, at a paratroopers base in the south of the country.
The excavation was conducted as part of a project known as “The Nature Defense Forces Project – Commanders Take Responsibility for their Environment” (TNDFPCTRE) led by the IDF’s Technology and Maintenance Corps, and was carried out in cooperation with the IDF, the Defense Ministry, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The tower, whose dimensions in antiquity are estimated to have been 15 x 10.5 ft, was erected on a high elevation site, and served as an observation point on the Hebron Mountains, the Judaean plain and the Ashkelon coastal region.
It was built using very large stones, weighing some 8 tons each. Its height today reaches around 6 ft. According to Sa’ar Ganor and Valdik Lifshitz, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “the strategic location of the tower served as a lookout point over the Philistine enemy, one of whose cities was Ashkelon. In the days of the First Temple, the Kingdom of Judah built a range of towers and fortresses as points of communication, warning and signaling, to transmit messages and field intelligence. This tower is one of the observation points connecting the large cities in the area, located in the Beit Mirsim (Mirsham), Tel Eton and Tel Lachish sites. In ancient times, to transmit messages, beacons of smoke were lit during the day and beacons of fire at night. It is likely that the watchtower now uncovered was one of the towers that bore some of the beacons.”
Activity in the ancient tower ceased on the eve of the expedition of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, in Judah in 701 BCE. Archaeological excavations have revealed that the entrance to the tower was blocked, and the force stationed there apparently converged on one of the nearby fortified towns. From biblical testimonies and archaeological findings in the area, we know that Sennacherib’s attack virtually destroyed Judah, including 46 cities and 2,000 villages and farms.
Guy Saly, director of the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project, said that some 150 recruits and commanders from the Paratroopers Brigade, including recruits from commando units, participated in the excavations, an activity that lasted several months.
Saly added that the project, established with the aim of leading commanders and soldiers to becoming responsible and actively involved in protecting nature, began in 2014, with eight projects, and today, sixty activity centers operate across the country as part of this project.
“To our delight, each project creates solidarity, strengthening the connection between the soldiers and their surroundings,” Saly said. “The IDF, a melting pot of Israel’s diverse population, is a unique meeting place for people from all parts of the country, which, through environmental activities, creates among them a stronger awareness of the preservation of nature and the Israeli heritage.”
Lieutenant Roi Ofir, 21, commander of the recruit team in the reconnaissance battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, said: “The archaeological excavation was a welcome break from our routine. I saw soldiers enjoying manual labor which added value to their experience. This was the first time I participated in excavations. The connection to the land, and the fact that there were Jewish warriors here in the past, gave me a sense of mission.”