Annexationist Agenda Informs Developments at Antiquity Sites in the oPt and other updates

General Introduction

Over the past several months, we have been monitoring a proliferation of activities to expand and deepen Israeli control at several antiquity sites in the West Bank. These the include declaration of new areas as state land, the expansion of jurisdiction areas and excavations conducted by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) at sites beyond the greenline, constituting de facto annexation. In tandem, we are seeing a convergence of biblical tourism in the West Bank and Jerusalem with a messianic agenda focused on third temple scenarios.

–      Statement on Gaza
–      Heritage Governance
–      East Jerusalem
–      West Bank


Statement on Gaza

In the face of the recent attacks on Rafah and the escalation of an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip we wish to reaffirm our call to all parties to reach an immediate ceasefire and demand the immediate release of all hostages held in the Gaza Strip.

We wish to remind that antiquity sites, historic buildings, religious institutions, monuments, museums, archives, art collections and other forms of tangible heritage embody deep cultural memory and are a major component in the constitution of personal, collective and national identities, rendering them inseparable from their contemporary human context. The safeguarding of heritage and cultural properties in times of conflict is not merely an ethical duty but an integral part of International Humanitarian Law, anchored primarily by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict and the accompanying First and Second Protocols.

The full extent of the damage to cultural properties in the Gaza Strip remains unclear as the current situation and ongoing fighting prevents local and international specialists from conducting a comprehensive on-the-ground assessment. The damage assessment provided by UNESCO (as of April 10th, 2024) reported verified damage to 43 sites. However, other sources which monitor the damage to cultural properties such as the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of CultureHeritage for PeaceEAMENALAPIFLAMESA and multiple media reports present a higher scope of damage to as many as 70% of the cultural properties, many of which were completely destroyed.

The various reports regarding the status of cultural properties, in addition to the horrifying civilian death toll, the extensive destruction of housing and civilian infrastructure, and statements by Israeli officials lead us to suspect that Israel has possibly conducted systematic and unlawful destruction of cultural properties in Gaza, which if verified, could constitute a war crime.

Therefore, we call upon all parties to: abide by international law and immediately desist from using cultural properties for military purposes or from regarding them as legitimate military targets, to safeguard the sites and institutions from intentional and systematic destruction, to avoid appropriation by its official bodies, and to protect all cultural properties from theft.

Israelis and Palestinians must return to a path of mutual recognition of the other side’s profound historic and cultural roots in this land as attested by the thousands of heritage sites embodying the cultural remains of multiple peoples. The path towards recognition was embarked upon thirty years ago but was foiled by the frenzy of settlement, hyper nationalism and acts of terrorism. What will it take for a new cultural and political reality to be born of the destruction? Will we manage to create a new cultural synthesis that can echo the inspiring syntheses of the past?

See also an Op-Ed regarding the destruction of cultural heritage in the Gaza Strip by Emek Shaveh’s Chair of the Board, Professor Rafi Greenberg, and Executive Director, Alon Arad.


Heritage Governance

New Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Heritage:
On Sunday May 5th the Israeli government approved the appointment of a new CEO for the Ministry of Heritage (gov. decision 1732). The new CEO, Itay Granik, has been a right-wing political activist.

The Civil Service Commission which examined the candidacy of Granik noted that he held “a significant personal, business or political connection to the appointing minister – the Minister of Heritage, as well as to other ministers of the government”. However the commission determined that Granik’s “managerial experience and especially his extensive professional experience in the ministry’s areas of practice add up to special skills that make him suitable for the position”.

Although his CV was not published with the government’s decision and Granik himself refused to disclose it to journalists, we were able to identify the main components of his work history. A simple google search shows that he managed a Jewish missionary community in Jaffa. Later, he directed several religious right wing organisations such as “Zehut” and “The Public Forum of Jewish and Democratic Israel”. During his time in the Forum he launched an aggressive campaign against leftist organizations, and led an attempt to cancel an exhibition about human evolution at the Nature Museum in Tel Aviv.

Emek Shaveh’s response:
This appointment is not a surprise as in many other ministries the professional tier is being replaced with political appointments lacking any connection to the ministry’s field of expertise. In addition, the takeover of the Ministry of Heritage by the Jewish Power party has been accompanied by multi-million shekel plans for developing heritage sites in the West Bank in a process that intensifies the weaponization of heritage for the advancement of annexation. This appointment is another step in the process of stripping heritage governance from any semblance of professional considerations and completing its transformation into a political tool by the settlers.


Head of the IAA Strengthening Connections with the Far Right:
On February 25th, it was reported on Israel’s Channel 13 that the Director General of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Eli Escusido gave a lecture at Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power party faction meeting in the Knesset. According to Israel’s Civil Service Regulations, civil servants are prohibited from attending faction meetings. The story was reported on Channel 13 and Minister of Heritage, Amichai Eliyahu, also a member of the Jewish Power party, responded that Escusido was invited in order to update the faction members on the IAA’s activities in the southern communities near Gaza. Emek Shaveh filed a complaint to the Civil Service Commission regarding this violation asking for them to investigate this issue. We have yet to receive a reply.


Still of IAA DG Escusido talking to Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu at Jewish Power faction meeting in February from report on Channel 13 using footage from Knesset channel.

In addition, last March the IAA’s DG participated in a joint tour with the director of the Elad Foundation, David Be’eri, at the Israeli Museum (Jerusalem), and later that month visited Tel Shiloh and the “Red Heifer” farm (see more on “Red Heifer” conference below).

On March 10th (2024) the head of the IAA went on a field visit to the site of Legio (inside the Megiddo Jail) in order to “prepare a visit by  the bible museum”. The Bible Museum in Washington DC was established in 2017 by the Green family, evangelical philanthropists and owners of the Hobby Lobby chain. Its purpose is to promote the “transformative power of the Bible“. The museum is controversial not only because of its literalist interpretation of the bible but due to allegations of its involvement in the illegal antiquities trade and suspicions regarding the display of fake artefacts. In 2021 the museum had to return 17,000 items to their countries of origin.

The visit in April followed a report from August 2023, when it was revealed that the IAA is planning to take a unique mosaic, excavated in 2005, out of the site of Meggido, and send it to an exhibition at the Bible Museum.

In the past few years, the IAA has mobilised to help the evangelical “Bible Museum” by lending over 700 items for a permanent exhibition.

In a related event, in April, the head of the IAA hosted Religious Zionisim Minister Orit Strook and heads of settler municipalities from the West Bank at the IAA offices.

Emek Shaveh’s response:
The fact that the IAA is deepening its partnership with political actors and ideological-messianic organizations represents a further shift away from the authority’s obligation to professionalism and public service.  The choice to harness archaeology to the agenda of the extreme Right in Israel and their evangelical counterparts is a highly worrying departure from its professional and ethical foundations. Pursuing this path will no doubt result in the  growing isolation of the entire Israeli archaeological community.


Cable Car:
In February, Haaretz reported that the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) has so far been unsuccessful in contracting a foreign company to build the cable car. This has not stopped the developers from proceeding with groundwork including the uprooting of olive trees and publicising intention to expropriate land.

As mentioned in a previous alert, on December 9, twelve signs were hung along parts of the cable car’s projected route including in Wadi Hilweh (Silwan), designating about 8,725 sqm. for expropriation for the benefit of the cable car project. The purpose of the expropriation is to locate land for placing the support pillars. According to the notices, this would be a “temporary expropriation” for eight years. At the end of this period, the precise areas determined for placement of the pillars would be permanently expropriated, while the expropriation of all unused land would be cancelled.

The plots marked for expropriation are located primarily in the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan and the Hinnom Valley, but also in Mt. Zion. Following the expropriation announcements, the Custodia Terra Sancta (the Franciscan Order), petitioned to the regional court in Jerusalem against the Municipality of Jerusalem, the JDA and the local planning committee. The Custodia claims that they were promised that their properties will not be expropriate for this project and the new expropriation notices are a violation of these promises. The hearing is set for September 16th.

To date, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), the main governmental corporation advancing the cable car project, has taken 88 decisions regarding the project between 2013-2024, fourty-five out of them since the last court decision in May 2022. Fourty-seven different contractors, mostly Israeli companies, were selected in processes exempt from a tender – of which two were cancelled. The contracts so far are worth an estimated at 31,168,272 million NIS, not including the approval of additional 6017 consulting hours at varying hourly rates which were not publicized.

Emek Shaveh’s response:
The progress made by the JDA in recruiting multiple consultants lead us to believe that a tender for construction of the cable car will likely be published in the near future.  We would like to note that any company that chooses to engage with the venture should understand that it will be partaking in a highly destructive political project. While lacking any professional or practical justification, the project is being advanced for the sole benefit of settler organisations and their efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem, alter the cultural landscape of Jerusalem’s historic core, erase the “green-line” (the 1949 Armistice border) and thwart any agreed future upon political solution for the city.

The “Mixed quarter” (AKA the Muslim Quarter) of the Old City of Jerusalem:


Early this month, Midreshet Hebron religious college, together with “Eshkolot” and the ministry of settlements published a series of tours by Midreshet Hebron. Among the tours one can find a tour in Hebron, Nabi Samuel and the Jewish quarter in Jeursalem’s Old City. Another tour within the Old City is of the Muslim Quarter. The invitation however, named the quarter as the “mixed quarter”. This is no innocent marketing slogan, but part of a deliberate move to rewrite the history of the Old City of Jerusalem. The fact that the Israeli government sponsors this may not be a surprise but is nonetheless deeply worrying.

Invitation to tours (Hebrew) by Midreshet Hebron including to a tour of the Muslim Quarter titled:  “Jews and Muslims – the ‘Mixed Quarter’ in the Old City.” The tours were also sponsored by Orit Strook’s Ministry of Settlement and National Missions.

West Bank

Hapoalim Bank Subsidizes Visits to Settler Sites in the West Bank:
Passover is a time when families tour the country. Usually, the Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) advertises sites and attractions across the country. In recent years prior to the war, the INPA  increasingly advertised sites in the West Bank. This year, the INPA and settler councils seemed to scale down the number of attractions advertised. The mass pilgrimage to Sebastia – the heritage site that is firmly within the sights of the Samaria Regional Council (the government decided to invest NIS 32 million in it) – was reduced to just one day. The INPA did not highlight it, nor other tours that were slated to take place during Passover in the national parks in the West Bank, such as Herodium, Qumran or Nabi Samuel. Probably due to the difficulty in providing adequate security.

But while the State authorities reduced activities, the settlers strengthened their collaborations with commercial and public entities. This Passover, for example, Hapoalim Bank and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) mobilized to sponsor, advertise and subsidize tours and events beyond the Green Line. Among the sites subsidized by the bank was the “farm in the Valley”, a site operated by the Elad settler organization in the Hinnom Valley on land traditionally cultivated by residents of  ​​Abu Tor and Silwan in East Jerusalem, a touristic enterprise which effaces the rich history of the place and especially Palestinian life in the present.


The Elad Foundation’s “Farm in the Valley” In the Hinnom Valley

 Another tour sponsored by Hapoalim bank was to the site of Nabi Samuel, an archaeological site and Palestinian village near Jerusalem. The tour was guided by the “Reshit Yerushalayim” – a visitors center situated in the heart of the village, a well-known practice that is familiar to us from the settlers in Silwan. The area of ​​the village was declared a national park, thus preventing any development, a pattern also familiar to us from the City of David in Silwan. The invitation to the Nabi Samuel tour obviously forgot to mention the Muslim history of the place. Also not mentioned are the Palestinian residents of Nabi Samuel, who lived next to the mosque and were expelled from the site 50 years ago. After the expulsion they established a village, a short distance from the mosque.

Nabi Samuel site

 In addition, Hapoalim Bank collaborated on tours with a settler organization called “Eshkolot“, an NGO dedicated to “Zionist Torah guidance”. Eshkolot, an organization which received more than NIS 8.5 million from the State in the last five years, consolidates thirty learning and tour centers, including many in the West Bank.

Their logo was emblazoned on the publications for the “Red Heifer Conference” organized two months ago by the temple movements in Tel Shiloh. The chairman of the executive board of “Eshkolot” is also the CEO of the Midreshet Hebron religious college. In February, Minister Orit Strook met with the directors of the organization, and according to CEO Dvir Cohen: “The Eshkolot organization is currently being transferred to the responsibility of the Ministry of National Missions […] with the aim of educating and connecting the Israeli public to Israeli heritage and nature.”

The Hasmonean Palaces site on the outskirts of Jericho, is another site which has featured in recent years slated to undergo development. The site is not regularly open to Israelis because accessing it involves passing through Area A which is under full Palestinian control. As part of the Judaization plan, the state is slated to invest 20 million shekels in the site and build a bridge to circumvent Area A. This year, at the last minute, the Society for the Protection of Nature and the Binyamin Regional Council, with the support of the INPA, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Staff Officer for Archaeology unit within the Civil Administration, invited the public to visit the site for one day only.


Tour of Hashmonite Palaces. IAA flag is hanging on meeting point.


Soldiers guard visitors to Hashmonite palaces near Jericho


The event at the “Hasmonean Palaces” site raises many questions: the regional council is not currently authorized to operate the site, yet it invited the public to the place. The site had not yet been declared a national park, but the INPA logo appears on the invitation. Although the site is not within the green line and therefore not under the auspices of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, its logo also appears.

In response to a query, the IAA responded that the logo displayed was an “old logo” and the authority has nothing to do with the activity (needless to say that it wasn’t an “old logo”).

In any case, the title of the invitation which reads, “This Passover, we strengthen our grip on the land and march to the Hasmonean palaces”, accurately represents the ultimate purpose of this tour, and in general, all tours in the West Bank: to  legitimize and ensconce Israeli control over sites in the West Bank, physically and in the Israeli public’s mind.

In a briefing before the tour, the organizers were told that the security was provided as a “divisional operation” of the Jordan Valley regional division in cooperation with the Border Police. An officer with the rank of major also added that the forces deployed in the area took over rooftops to secure the buses that took the visitors to the site. In other words, the meaning of “strengthening our grip on the area ” is also to bring large military forces to provide security for a relatively small group of Israelis in Palestinian territory during a war.



ICOM Israel promotes Visits to Museums in the OpT: 
May 9th was ‘International Museums Day’ by The International Council of Museums (ICOM), a non-governmental organisation which establishes professional and ethical standards for museum activities. This year the International Museums Day’s title is “‘Museums for Education and Research”.
In anticipation of ‘International Museums Day’ the Israeli branch of ICOM publicized a list of over 100 museums that were slated to take part in activities aimed at “exposing the cultural wealth of museums and urging the public to visit them and raise awareness to the role of museums in society.” Of the list there are three which are beyond the green line: Ma’ale Adumim’s museum of Moshe Castel, the Tower of David museum in Jerusalem’s Old City and Hadassah House in Hebron.


Land Expropriation Around the Archaeological Site of Herodium:
In early April, Bezalel Smotrich in his capacity as a minister within the defense ministry with responsibility for the Civil Administration declared 42 acres/170 dunam of land around the site of Herodium as State Land. The move joins a series of changes in land designations for large areas across the West Bank.

The Herodium Park was declared in 1985. It spans more than 1,000 dunams and is located several kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. At the heart of the park is an archaeological site identified as a fortress palace built by King Herod in the 1st century BCE. In the 1950s and 1960s, archaeological excavations were conducted at Herodium by the Franciscan Biblical Institute (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum) in Jerusalem, and since 1980 the Hebrew University has conducted the excavations, with a focus on uncovering finds from Herod’s reign.

For more information about Herodium and the neighboring villages see here.


The amphitheatre at Herodium


Emek Shaveh’s response: This expropriation follows other redesignations of large areas in the West Bank in recent months. These should be understood in the context of multiple actions during the war months aimed at entrenching Israeli control. Archaeology has been used as a central tool for claiming land and reshaping a historic narrative that privileges a Jewish past and justifies exclusive Jewish sovereignty.



The following is a brief summary of other events in the West Bank in recent months:

The IAA lead excavation in Area C in possible violation of International Law:
In March, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA) in the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) led a public excavation of the Murba’at Caves at the Darga reservation in the northern Judean Desert in the West Bank. The excavation was supported by the Ministry of Heritage. Although cooperation in archaeological activities between the IAA and SOA in the area have been ongoing for several years, this is the first time the IAA has been presented as the lead partner in the project rather than the Civil Administration’s Staff Officer for Archaeology.

In February, Emek Shaveh wrote to the IAA demanding it cancel the excavation.  We did not receive a reply.

Read More – Here

Red Heifer Conference at Tel Shiloh:
On Wednesday, March 27th, a conference on the “Red Heifer” took place at Tel Shiloh, an archaeological mound which has been turned by the settlers into a touristic attraction where archaeology serves as a prop for the biblical story. The Red Heifer is a special breed of cow associated with ritual sacrifice in the days of the Temple. The logos on the invitation include those of two government ministries: the Ministry of Settlements and National Missions and the Ministry of Education (which denied it was involved and demanded that the organizers remove it from the invitation). The Ministry of Education does, however, support one of the organizations involved in the conference – the college for knowledge of the Temple.

For more information about Tel Shiloh and the decision to house the heifers there see our alert from last August, a report on Tel Shiloh and on archaeological practice and law in the West Bank.

In late March the Civil Administration announced its intention to add 51 acres/206 dunam to the Jordan regional council including the village of Jiftlik and the archaeological site of Tel al Mazar. The Palestinian village of Jiftlik is located in the Jordan valley, to the north of Jericho. The name “Jiftlik” originally refers to lands that were purchased by the Ottoman Sultan and were designated as lands that could never be sold.

Ottoman Saraya building at Jiftlik

Emek Shaveh’s response: The historic remains and antiquities at Tel al Mazar and Jiftlik are a pretext for appropriating land. In this case, subsuming the village and the historic sites under the jurisdiction of the Jordan Valley regional council will facilitate developing the site as a Jewish-Israeli touristic site.

Read More – Here