Campaigners Seek Guarantees for Jewish Archeological Sites

NEAR JERICHO (Reuters) -
Assaf Avraham, a Bar-Ilan University archaeologist stands near ruins of the ancient desert fortress of Cypros, overlooking the Palestinian city of Jericho, in the West Bank June 23, 2020. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

The Israeli government faces calls from campaigners to declare sovereignty over ancient Jewish ruins on land in Yehuda and Shomron that Israel is not slated to annex under U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace blueprint.

An Israeli advocacy group called “Safeguarding Eternity” is worried about what will happen to Jewish archaeological sites on parts of the region not included in Trump’s annexation map.

It wants Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to guarantee Israeli control over sites such as the remnants of hilltop Hashmonayim and Herodian forts dating back to the period of Bais Sheni, and hundreds of ruins from earlier Jewish rule.

“This entire plan – its right, its essence – is the connection of the Jewish people to their land and our heritage,” Eitan Melet, a director of Safeguarding Eternity, said as he stood among ruins from the foundation of the desert fortress of Cypros, overlooking the city of Jericho.

“If we don’t take our heritage sites into account, this plan has no right to exist at all.”

The Israeli government has not commented on the campaigners’ demands.

Assaf Avraham, an archaeologist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said he too was worried about the fate of these archaeological sites.

“If these areas are not in the hands or under the sovereignty of (authorities) that know how to take care of and maintain archaeological sites, and which have the motivation to do so, we really fear for these places,” he said.

The Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry gave assurances that it would take good care of the sites.

It said in a statement that it is “able to protect and preserve the cultural heritage sites under Palestinian control, as maintenance and restoration work is carried out continuously.”