Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir/TPS
Visitors arriving during Chol HaMoed Sukkot to Sebastia National Park in Samaria. Sebastia, Oct 16, 2019

Arab vandals caused extensive damage to the Ancient Samaria heritage site in Tel Sebastia over the weekend, setting fire to parts of it and scrawling graffiti in Arabic on the ancient building stones. Large parts of the site were burned, and damage was caused to the antiquities and archaeological findings at the site.

The arson and vandalism at the site were revealed by a patrol of the Samaria Regional Council and Shomrim Al Hanetzach (Preserving Eternity), a watchdog group dedicated to protecting Israel’s archaeological treasures.

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Ancient Samaria is a Biblical-era city that served as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel during the 9-8 centuries BCE. Historically, the ancient city of Samaria is the second most important city to the Jewish people after ancient Jerusalem. Archaeological excavations at the site have revealed remains from several periods, including an impressive building identified as the palace of the kings Omri and Ahab. Many archaeological findings were dug up at the site, including 500 pieces of carved ivory. The place was declared a national park and is managed by the Nature and Parks Authority.

Samaria Council Head Yossi Dagan charged that “time after time, the Palestinian Authority (PA) barbarically destroys historical and heritage sites in Judea and Samaria, and each time a new red line is crossed.”

“This is a national disgrace, the government is abandoning the most important heritage sites of the Jewish people. This is an attack on everything – an attack on Israel’s heritage. It is not possible that in the heart of the country, our history will be trampled and erased. Whoever burns the land, and such an important place, the land is not his. The government of Israel and the IDF should guard the place and prosecute the rioters,” added Dagan.

“Burning the site and damaging it constitutes a criminal offense under the Antiquities Law,” said Adi Shargai, the activity coordinator at Shomrim Al Hanetzach. “We demand that the enforcement agencies act against the criminals, who took pictures of themselves with their faces visible.”

It is of significance to note that in all the PA’s publications about the site, there is no mention of the Biblical period, due to its support of the Israeli narrative of history.

“This is a denial of heritage par excellence. In the place where words were erased yesterday, the palace of King Ahab of Israel was burned today. If you have already declared the site a national park, at least treat it as is customary in national parks,” the two said.

In November 2020, the PA inaugurated a “Palestinian” tourist complex in Sebastia, the historic capital of the biblical Kingdom of Israel. A flagpole with the PLO flag was affixed to the ancient stones, under the auspices of UNESCO and the Belgian government, without any archeological and scientific supervision.

The PA damaging of heritage sites in Judea and Samaria is not new. In recent years, huge PLO flags have been hoisted at several heritage sites, severely damaging the archeological remains.

More recently, unknown individuals from the PA have again caused damage to the Biblical-era site of Yehoshua ben Nun’s Altar on Mount Ebal.

In January, Shomrim Al Hanetzach discovered that Arabs operating an illegal factory in Beit Fajar in Gush Etzion took about two kilometers from a Second Temple period aqueduct and ground it into gravel for construction.

Antiquities in Judea and Samaria face a constant danger of destruction. Grave robbers and antiquities thieves from the PA carry out illegal digs and excavations. The phenomenon of antiquity destruction is pervasive and affects all sites that are not under preservation, and a survey of the sites in Judea and Samaria shows that a staggering 95% of the archeological sites have been robbed, vandalized, or disturbed.

Findings presented to the Knesset in January show that 90% of the sites that are destroyed are being destroyed by the PA for development purposes, and 10% are destroyed for robbery purposes.

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