by Ilana Messika Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Border Police officers thwarted last weekend a cell of tomb raiders at “Horvat Maskana,” an excavation site north of the Golani Junction, in the lower Galilee.
Three men from the village of Tur’an in the Northern District were caught digging in an ancient burial cave in search of valuable artifacts, causing extensive damage to the archaeological layers and to the buried.
“‘Horvat Maskana’ was a Jewish village during Roman times,” said Nir Distelfeld, an inspector of the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery. “The community of ‘Maskana’ is mentioned within the Jerusalem Talmud (second century compilation of discussions on Rabbinic Law) as a Jewish village situated midway between Sephoris [in central Galilee] and Tiberias [on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee]: ‘Two who departed, one from Tiberias, one from Sephoris and who arrived simultaneously at Maskana’,“ he quoted.
According to Distelfeld, the robbers were hunting for objects frequently used in burial ceremonies which can often be found in burial caves in perfect condition due to the protection afforded by the heavy stone that has been preserving them for thousands of years. The artifacts are extremely valuable in the antiquities market.
“These criminals are destroying our peoples’ history and erasing pieces of the country’s archaeological puzzle,” he said.
The three suspects were detained at the police station, interrogated and released on bail. The case will be transferred to prepare for an indictment. The penalty incurred for illegal digging can amount to three years in prison and for the crime of damages to antiquities, five years.