By Andrew Isaacson
Israeli enforcement agencies were successful on Sunday in catching five suspects by the Khirbet Jahush site in the Zevulun Valley in the northern Israel conducting illegal digging and destroying antiquities.
The suspects were identified as residents of the Arab towns of Ibelin and Tamra and had manual digging tools and a backhoe with them. The unlawful excavation was very destructive.
The suspects were caught while trying to leave the site. Indictments are expected to be filed against them. The two vehicles and the backhoe will be sequestered once the proceedings are over.
Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit in Northern Israel, said the excavation with the backhoe caused irreparable damage to the archaeological remains. He said the ashlars of a public building were displaced and mosaic floors were broken.
“The seizure was successful thanks to the assistance of the Tamra police, Mate Asher border police, RTG inspectors, members of Kibbutz Afek and loyal volunteers,” Distelfeld said. “The Israel Antiquities Authority will continue its efforts in enforcement activities in the open areas, so that we can preserve the heritage assets.”
Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Antiquities Robbert Prevention unit, said this particular antiquity site has not been scientifically researched and any kind of damage will make it difficult for archaeologists to understand the history and inhabitants of the site.
Khirbet Jahush is located in agricultural land between Kiryat Ata and Highway 70 in northern Israel and was inhabited from the Byzantine period to the Middle Ages.
Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Division, previously commented on gangs of antiquities robbers and said the finds recovered and stolen “are sold for large sums of money in the antiquities markets in Israel and around the world. Over the years, many of the plundered finds reached the antiquities markets in Israel and abroad, but it has been decades since perpetrators were caught red-handed. This is mainly due to the difficultly in detecting and catching them on the wild desert cliffs.”
It is illegal in Israel for anyone without a license to excavate and destroy antiquities sites and violators could be sent to jail for up to five years under the law.