Photo Credit: Esty Dziubov/TPS
Shechem (Nablus) from Mitzpe Yosef on Mt Gerzim. June 13, 2019

The Palestinian Authority (PA) wreaked havoc on the Biblical-era site of Yehoshua bin Nun’s Altar on Mount Ebal (Har Eval), including grinding stones from the area into gravel as part of a plan to pave a new road near the city of Shechem (Nablus).

The Book of Joshua describes how Yehoshua bin Nun, the Israelite leader, built an altar on Mount Ebal, acting on instructions from Moses, after the Israelites had crossed into the Land of Israel.

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Haifa University archaeologist Adam Zertal has identified the remains of an altar found at the site as the one described in the Bible, where Joshua allotted the new land among the 12 tribes.

Zertal’s research showed the area to be a unique ritual site used to offer sacrifices. The dating of the altar to the period of the Israelites’ entry into the land, the similarity between the structure excavated and the altar described in the Torah, and the fact that only kosher animal bones were found at the site led the researchers to conclude that this is the altar of Yehoshua ben Nun built on Mount Ebal.

In recent months, the PA has begun paving a road that passes near the site of the altar and is intended to connect the village of Asira ash-Shamaliya with the Shechem.

In response to an urgent petition on the subject submitted by Member of Knesset Michal Shir in the Knesset about two months ago, Deputy Minister of Defense Michael Bitton replied that the works were approved by the IDF’s Civil Administration and that there was no danger to the archaeological site.

However, the Shomrim Al Hanetzch (Guardians of Eternity) organization found a video posted by the Asira ash-Shamaliya municipality on Facebook in which it can be seen that the PA has carried out heavy works at the site in recent weeks that caused significant damage.

Part of the ancient fence that borders the site was dismantled and its stones were crushed using a gravel crusher to serve as a substrate for the paving of the road.

The site’s location in Area B, under PA administration, enables it to operate unhindered.

Shomrim Al Hanetzch, which is dedicated to preserving Jewish archaeology, history, and heritage in Judea and Samaria, noted that the physical damage to the site is a direct continuation of the attitude of the Palestinians to the place over the years. They have set themselves the goal of suppressing the Israeli presence and visits to this important site.

According to officials in the PA, identifying the site as an Israeli altar is a falsification of the Palestinian history of the place and constitutes a false use of archaeology by Israel to take over the area, and they are acting to prevent this.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, made an urgent appeal to the IDF command in the area and demanded that the issue be dealt with severely and that the destruction be stopped immediately.

“This is a direct and unfortunate continuation of the contempt of all those concerned regarding the historical sites of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Dagan charged.

“From the ancient Samaria National Park through Tel Aroma to the altar of Yehoshua bin Nun, it is shocking to see how the Palestinian Authority is rudely destroying the archaeological sites that are dear to all of humanity,” he said.

“But it is even more shocking to see how everyone who is entrusted with these places behaves with appalling helplessness, from the political echelons to the superiors in the field, to the point of criminal neglect, the consequences of which are before us,” he added.

According to Guy Derech, director of activities at Guardians of Eternity Shomrim Al Hanetzch, the site of the altar is “one of the most important sites in our country and of special importance to the heritage of the Jewish people. Crushing thousands of years of cultural assets into gravel is a very serious act that is unthinkable in the modern world.”

The PA is “using its powers to damage archaeological sites in violation of the Oslo Accords, and Israel is not lifting a finger at preserving its national and world heritage,” he charged, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government to “stop burying their heads in the sand and start working before there is no more heritage left here.”

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.