Position Paper: Proposed Amendments to the Antiquities Authority Law to Expand the Authority’s Jurisdiction into the West Bank

Ahead of the Preliminary Vote on P/2345/25: The Israel Antiquities Authority Law (Amendment – Authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Judea and Samaria), 2023

Tomorrow (10/7/2024), a preliminary vote is scheduled to be held on legislative amendments proposed by Knesset Member Amit Halevi (Likud) and approved (Sunday, 07/07/2024) by the Ministerial Committee for legislation (therefore promoted with the support of the government), which seeks to apply Israeli antiquities laws to the West Bank (the draft of the proposed amendment in annex A). Halevi’s proposed amendments are intended to equate the status of antiquities in Israel with those in the West Bank and to extend the responsibility of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to this area. If passed, the bill signifies annexation of parts of the West Bank and is contrary to international law and conventions to which Israel is a signatory.

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In the preamble to the proposed amendments, the authors attempt to justify it with a quote from the book of Maccabees “It is not a foreign land that we have taken, nor have we set our rule over the property of strangers. This is the inheritance of our Forefathers, which at one time was illicitly conquered, and we, when the opportunity arose, recovered the inheritance of our Fathers.” Further along the authors lament that “although Judea and Samaria are the cradle of the Hebrew nation” the antiquities law does not apply to these areas, and claim that the “findings have no historical or any other affiliation with the Palestinian Authority.”

The proposed amendments, derived from an ethnocentric and nationalist religious ideology of divine rights, is dangerous and damaging for the State of Israel, undermining any horizon for a political solution to the conflict and devastating to its foreign relations. It would reduce the field of archaeology to a mere political weapon, empty of meaning, and cause untold harm to its academic community.

The proposed legislative amendments and their implications
The proposed amendments join a series of government decisions, taken since January 2023  (primarily decisions 90, 491, and 786), which aim to deepen Israeli control in the oPt under the guise of “safeguarding antiquities.” These complement recent government decisions aimed at accelerating the process of annexation. Taken together, they represent recommendations put forward by extreme and messianic right-wing organizations over recent years to, on the one hand, expand the powers of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), in this case, the powers of the Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA), beyond the Oslo II Accords categories into Areas B and even A, and on the other hand, reduce the SOA’s powers while expanding the IAA’s authority to the West Bank. These moves complement each other and turn Israel’s obligation, as the occupying power, to protect antiquities into a weapon aimed at advancing annexation.

The legal framework defining “antiquities” and designating the IAA as the authority responsible for their care in Israel includes two main laws: The Antiquities Law, 1978, and the Israel Antiquities Authority Law, 1989. Both laws are limited to the territory of the State of Israel only. In fact, Section 22A of the Antiquities Law regarding the removal of antiquities out of the West Bank and into Israel emphasizes this distinction by requiring any such transfer of antiquities to have explicit permission from the director of the IAA, and not just the approval of the SOA.

Conversely, the overall legal system in the West Bank, including in the field of antiquities, is subject to international conventions concerning territories under occupation. In such a situation, the occupying power must respect and preserve the legal system that was in place prior to the occupation. The annexation of a territory occupied during an armed conflict to the territory of the occupying state is prohibited under international law. All Israeli governments since 1967 until the current one, regardless of their political stance, have refrained from making legislative changes that openly, clearly, and unequivocally annex the West Bank to Israel. However, under this government, this distinction is rapidly eroding. Moreover, the proposed amendment represents a sharp deviation from Israel’s policy regarding the obligation to share responsibility for the field of antiquities according to the stipulations of the Oslo Accords and under international law and appears to be an experiment at achieving annexation through antiquities.

The IAA and the Israel Archaeological Association (ILAA) (translation of the ILAA statement in annex B) have publicly declared their opposition to this legislative proposal

The proposed legislation has would have several main implications:

  1. De facto annexation of Area C in violation of international law – combined with the cabinet decision from the end of June, also granting enforcement authority to the Israel Antiquities Authority in Area B.
  2. End of Israel’s commitment to the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution – and establish a legal infrastructure for further land grabs under the pretext of preserving antiquities.
  3. End of Israel’s commitment to international law and international heritage conventions (some of which Israel is a signatory to).
  4. A further withdrawal from international frameworks and international organizations in the field of heritage – notably UNESCO and ICOMOS.
  5. Strengthening boycott movement and increasing Israel’s international isolation (in this case, the archaeological community) – eliminating the distinction between legitimate archaeological activity (respected worldwide) and illegitimate archaeological activity in the oPt. Positioning the Israel Antiquities Authority as a tool to advance annexation will have severe consequences for the entire Israeli archaeological community.
  6. Heritage policy based on notions of Jewish superiority – the decision ostensibly seeks to save “national” (Jewish) heritage but ignores, and necessarily undermines, all heritage considered non-Jewish.

Beyond the serious consequences outlined above, it is important to note that the claims made by the author regarding the need for legislation are fundamentally incorrect, reflect an ignorance of history and a lack of understanding of the field of antiquities as an academic discipline as well as a complete disregard for accompanying conventions, laws and ethics. More than anything, the legislation reflects a political-archaeological campaign led by ideological-messianic groups who mix heritage, cultural affiliation, and ethnic supremacy.  The underlying purpose of the campaign is not to solve any professional problem, but to  to promote the annexation of the West Bank.

The destruction of sites through rapid development or conflict is a painful issue throughout the Middle East. Hundreds of sites in Israel and beyond are damaged by construction and infrastructure development, and hundreds of sites are damaged in conflicts and through the construction of military infrastructures. The construction of the separation barrier alone entailed the destruction of hundreds of sites. In the current war, it is estimated that about 60% of the cultural properties in the Gaza Strip have been damaged or completely destroyed.

It is also impossible to ignore that sites are being destroyed and looted in the West Bank due to the conflict. The question at hand concerns the legitimate scope of Israel’s activities: carrying out annexation under the guise of amending the Antiquities Law is a distortion of Israeli law, is contrary to international law, and contradicts Israel’s commitments to its neighbors and to the international community. This policy drives Israel towards international isolation and weakens its position vis-a-vis the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

The expansion of archaeological activities in the occupied territories, especially those advanced by the government’s recent decision and the proposed legislation, underscores the government’s intent to promote annexation by any means necessary. It also presents a fundamental challenge to the existence of impartial scientific archaeological activity, so long as it takes place as part of a mechanism of oppression and enabled by military force.

The destruction of sites cannot and should not serve as a pretext for political action, nor should political action be disguised as archaeological activity. Blurring the distinction between heritage preservation and settlement and annexation actions endangers the State of Israel, sabotages the potential for a two-state solution, and threatens the future of Israeli archaeology as a whole.


We call on all Knesset members from all parties not to allow the advancement of this destructive legislative process!



The proposed legislative amendments and their implications – an extended explanation

The Legal Situation

The framework within Israeli law defining “antiquities” and the authority responsible for their management comprises two main laws: the Antiquities Law, 1978 and the Antiquities Authority Law, 1989. Both laws apply only within the State of Israel’s sovereign borders. For example, Section 2 of the Antiquities Law defines “state ownership of antiquities” as “an antiquity discovered or found in Israel after the commencement of this Law.” In fact, Section 22A of the Antiquities Law, regarding the importing of antiquities from the “area” (the legal definition of the West Bank territories), emphasizes this distinction by stipulating: “No person shall bring into Israel an antiquity from the area unless he has received permission from the director and in accordance with the terms of the approval.” This means that any transfer of antiquities from the West Bank to Israel requires explicit authorization by the Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), not merely an export approval from the head of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).

The Antiquities Authority Law also clarifies the status of the IAA, defined as a “corporation” responsible for “handling all matters of antiquities, including underwater antiquities, in Israel” (Section 5 – Duties of the Authority). “Antiquities” or “antiquity sites” are, as mentioned above, defined in the Antiquities Law, which limits the definitions to Israel’s sovereign borders.  Therefore, the duties of the IAA, as well as its supervisory powers, are limited to the territorial boundaries of the State of Israel.

In contrast to the Israeli legal framework, the legal system concerning antiquities in the West Bank is subject to international conventions regarding territories under occupation. All Israeli governments (until the current government) have at the very least on an official level treated antiquities in the territories beyond the Green Line according to conventions concerning occupied territories, regardless of their political stance. According to Article 43 of the Hague Convention of 1907, when a territory is under occupation, the occupying power must respect and maintain the legal system that was in place prior to occupation. Annexation of territory occupied during an armed conflict to the territory of the occupying state is prohibited under international law which states that the occupied territory shall be held temporarily under the occupation regime until conditions for its return are negotiated.

Until 1996, all sites in the West Bank were under the auspices of the Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA) in Judea and Samaria, an official within the ICA (and before the establishment of the Civil Administration in 1981, of the Military Government), who has served since 1967 as the de facto replacement of the head of the Jordanian Antiquities Department and the highest authority for decisions on antiquities in the West Bank. The SOA was, and is still, subject to the Jordanian Antiquities Law of 1966 (called by the Israeli military “Interim Law No. 51, 1966”), military orders from 1986 (Order 1166 and Order 1167), and regulations from 1990; some institutional (e.g., the appointment of the SOA in place of the relevant minister; changes in designation of authority, etc.) and some necessary updates in response to changes on the ground. Additionally, according to the First Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954, to which Israel is a party, the actions of the occupying power are limited to the protection of cultural property (and prohibit their removal from the occupied territory). For these reasons, the SOA unit is separated from the IAA.

In 1995, the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo II Accord (the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip), dividing the West Bank into three parts: Areas A, B, and C. In Areas A and B (constituting about 40% of the West Bank), civil life (including the treatment of archaeological sites and finds, initially according to the Jordanian Antiquities Law and since 2018 according to the Palestinian Antiquities Law) was transferred to the responsibility of the PA. In Area C (about 60% of the West Bank), the ICA continued to bear responsibility for managing civil life. The agreement stipulated that archaeological activity in Area C would gradually transfer to the PA, depending on progress in the permanent status arrangement for these territories (until then, this activity continues to be subject to the 1966 interim law). Therefore, currently, three bodies are responsible for the protection of antiquities: the IAA within the State of Israel, the SOA in Area C of the West Bank, and the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (DACH) of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Areas A and B of the West Bank. Each body considers itself responsible for all antiquities within its jurisdiction, regardless of the period and cultural attribution.

The Political Situation

There are approximately 6,000 known archaeological sites in the West Bank. This means that almost every village or settlement contains archaeological and historical remains  requiring varying degrees of archaeological supervision to prevent unnecessary damage to the sites. The archaeological sites across the West Bank are a central component in the heritage of the people living in the area serving as a reference for national, local, religious, and sometimes even family and personal identities. Expanding Israeli authorities’ auspices in the field of antiquities is not just an infringement on territory but an assault on the collective and individual identities of Palestinian communities.

Summary of Israel’s policy in the oPt in the field of antiquities

Immediately following the occupation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula in 1967, Israel began to show interest in the archaeological sites in the territories it had conquered. Similar to its approach towards archaeology within the State’s sovereign borders, in these areas — particularly in the West Bank — it had a dual role. On one hand, expanding knowledge about the country’s past by opening up areas for research by Israeli scholars. On the other hand, the archaeological sites in the West Bank also served as a tool to justify ideological, religious, and political objectives.

Throughout years of Israeli military rule in the West Bank, scholars tried to maintain a distinction, even if only for appearances sake, between archaeological research, which was ostensibly politically and ideologically neutral, and the use of archaeology by the settlement movement’s political-faith-based project. However, over the years, this distinction has eroded, and archaeological activity in the oPt has become a combined political state-sponsored and ideologically-messianic operation under professional auspices, where it is clear that archaeology and its findings are secondary to the appropriation of public lands, the displacement of Palestinian residents from their homes, and the establishment of political facts on the ground.

Across the West Bank, organizations have emerged with the aim of developing tourism at archaeological sites alongside scientific and pseudo-scientific research projects intended to prove the claim of exclusive Jewish connection to a specific site or area and to the West Bank as a whole. These projects also host professional conferences and publish collections of articles meant to  lend an appearance of scientific legitimacy to their political claims. In recent years, senior officials in the IAA, scholars and various academic institutions have even attended and participated in these conferences, thereby granting them professional recognition and academic legitimacy. All this while leading academic institutions worldwide have refrained from participating in research in the oPt, due to their commitment to international law and conventions. This commitment, which is almost non-existent among Israeli archaeologists, fuels arguments for boycotting Israeli academics in international institutions.

In recent years, and especially since 2019, the use of heritage sites as a tool for territorial control under the guise of heritage protection has increased. Alongside emphasizing the Jewish connection to the sites through renaming, excavation, and tourism development, archaeology also serves as a tool for controlling open spaces and displacing local Palestinian residents from their landscapes, fields, springs, and sometimes even their homes.

The main organizations focusing on antiquities and tourism in the West Bank are:  Regavim, Shomrim al Hanetzach (Guardians of Eternity), and the Shiloh Forum.  Their objective is to highlight the importance of  sites to “national heritage” (i.e., Jewish), alongside efforts to create an impression of an “archaeological emergency” (unsupported by data) while portraying Palestinians as looters and destroyers of antiquities who act with a clear strategy to erase “Jewish”  sites and deny Jewish roots in the land. Their stated goal is to increase Israeli archaeological activity in the West Bank through excavations and research led by the academia and representatives of the IAA in order to further legitimize expanding Israeli control over Area C and even justify the reoccupation of Area B in the name of “antiquities protection.”

In September 2021, the Shiloh Forum published the “National Heritage Survey” in the “Judea and Samaria” territories, which claimed that 80% of the surveyed sites had been damaged by looting. However, the survey did not provide details about the research methods used, the sites examined, nor the criteria used to determine the extent of damage to sites. In line with the central messages of the archaeological-political campaign from its inception, the report proposed a unilateral, ostensibly professional solution in the form of expanding the activities of the IAA in the West Bank and creating “heritage sovereignty” or “antiquities sovereignty” and annexing territories in the West Bank.

In a discussion initiated by MK Orit Strock in January 2022 in the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, led mainly by representatives of “Shomrim al Hanetzach,” the committee recommended examining the entry of the IAA into the West Bank (directly as assistance to the SOA or even establishing a Judea and Samaria district for the West Bank—effectively abolishing the SOA). The primary justification for this recommendation was the claim that the SOA unit lacks the resources to perform its work (with respect to “saving” antiquities from looting). Even though the Knesset recommendations did not bind the government, the discussion highlighted the organizations’ aspirations.

Following the establishment of the 37th government, a government decision fulfilling coalition agreements was taken to reorganize the heritage sector (Decision No. 90). The main purpose of the decision was to transform the Ministry of Heritage into an independent ministry led by the settler minister Amichai Eliyahu, a member of the extreme right-wing party Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit). As part of this, the responsibility for the IAA was transferred to the ministry, along with positions and budgets designated for relevant areas of operation from various government ministries. Entrusting (or abandoning) the Ministry of Heritage and control over the field to an extreme right-wing settler minister necessarily indicated that archaeological sites in the West Bank would be at the forefront of the party’s agenda. Accordingly, two additional government decisions (Decision 491 and Decision 786) allocated approximately 150 million NIS to increase activity at antiquities sites in the West Bank, with most of the budget directed towards promoting the development of sites as tourist attractions, while only about 10% was allocated for archaeological activities.

In September 2023, the Subcommittee for the West Bank (also known as the “Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria” under the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee) convened to discuss the enforcement efforts of the ICA and the SOA in the area of “Mount Ebal” (a site located in Area B near the village of Asira a-Shamaliya). The site made headlines in January 2022 and again in March following a sifting project carried out in December 2019 and January 2020 by settlers and evangelical researchers. During those months, soil was excavated and collected from the site itself (without an excavation license, as the authority to issue such a license lies with the Palestinian DACH), and large bags with soil were transported from the excavation site to a field school in the settlement of Shavei Shomron (Area C). About a year ago, in July 2023, a second operation was carried out by the same people, this time accompanied by the SOA unit. The public was even invited to participate in the sifting. These actions allegedly violate local and international law as well as the Oslo Accords. In the discussion, settler representatives in the Knesset, and the representatives of the organizations invited by them, demanded that the ICA assert its authority over the site, while representatives of the army, the ICA, and the SOA reiterated that the site, defined as Area B, is beyond their jurisdiction according to the Oslo Accords. Last January (15/01/24), during the war, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, MK Sukkot, held a follow-up discussion regarding the situation at  the Mount Ebal site. The discussion took place along similar lines to the previous one. In both cases the speakers disregarded the illegal excavation carried out by the settlers at the site.

In response to the cabinet decision from last month, MK Sukkot published an opinion piece on Channel 7, where he clarified the cabinet’s intent: “The State of Israel is drawing upon itself the authority to enforce the law at all our heritage sites, including in Area B, such as Mount Ebal, Tel Aroma, etc.” In other words, this decision is intended to increase settler activity in Area B, to advance the process of dismantling the Palestinian Authority and the collapse of the two-state solution idea, all under the guise of “preserving” antiquities (as long as they can be linked to the Jewish narrative).

It is important to note that the SOA unit constantly avoids enforcing the law when it comes to the destruction of heritage sites by settlers. For example, the SOA legitimized and whitewashed the activity at Mount Ebal, which was carried out without a license. Additionally, the SOA’s disregard for the destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Battir due to the establishment of illegal outposts within the site and the destruction of dozens of ancient terraces by settlers. The SOA also consistently ignores settler activities that severely damaged the Dir al-Arbain site (the tomb of Jesse and Ruth), which underwent extensive renovations without a preservation plan and was carried out by unskilled workers. Furthermore, the SOA unit does not publish information about its activities and is even opposed to such disclosure during proceedings before the High Court of Justice in the years 2016-2013, which ended with the rejection of the petition by Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din organizations demanding the disclosure of the SOA’s activities.

Main justifications for the  legislation and Emek Shaveh’s response to them

First argument: “Despite Judea and Samaria being the cradle of the Jewish nation and the presence of archaeologically significant findings from various periods, the Antiquities Law in its current form does not apply to these areas, and the antiquities in the region are managed by the ICA’s SOA Unit under military government.”

Emek Shaveh’s response: Indeed, important archaeological sites are found in the West Bank. Some represent a connection to Jewish heritage, but most do not. In our region, there has been a human presence for approximately 1.5 million years, with many cultures living, working, and creating in this region, leaving their remains embedded in the ground. Therefore, the cultural attribution of a site, and the frequency of its appearance in ancient texts, do not constitute evidence of ownership by one group or another, and certainly cannot serve as an argument for determining borders or justifying annexation contrary to international law. These territories were placed under ICA jurisdiction and not under the IAA, due to Israel’s obligations since 1967 to comply with international law regarding areas under military occupation, especially under the Hague Convention of 1907 and the First Protocol of the Hague Convention of 1954.

Second argument: “In any case, these findings have no historical or other connection to the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the political status of Judea and Samaria has no bearing on Israel’s responsibility for the archaeological finds belonging to its peoples.”

Emek Shaveh’s response: Indeed, throughout the West Bank, sites with layers associated with the history of the Jewish people can be found. However, the claim that Palestinians have “no historical connection” to these sites is based not only on an ignorance of history but also on a severe lack of understanding of the essence of archaeological work. The assumption that Jewish heritage sites were deserted about 2,000 or 3,000 years ago and have since waited for Jewish people to return is historically void. The area has continued to evolve, and in the past few centuries, the Palestinian’s peoples have established settlements near or on the ancient sites making them the successors of the remains of all cultures that shaped the West Bank before them. For this reason they experience these sites as part of their collective and individual heritage, regardless of the periods of history embedded within them.

In any case, an artifact or a site does not constitute “Jewish heritage,” but is, rather, part of the heritage of the place and its inhabitants as they are: the histories of the place and the faith are shared by all who have lived and reside there. International law and agreements to which Israel is a signatory explicitly determines that the rightful owners of artifacts from the West Bank are the Palestinians, as it was taken from their territory.

Third argument: “The Civil Administration lacks the knowledge and resources necessary to adequately manage the scope of archaeological findings in these areas. The current state of antiquities in Judea and Samaria is dire. Entire sites are damaged due to looting for economic or nationalist purposes, which is a cultural crime that Israel must not condone.”

Emek Shaveh’s response: The poor condition of antiquities in the West Bank primarily stems from their existence in a conflict-ridden occupied territory, and their exploitation by right-wing political elements to turn them into a political weapon aimed at justifying Jewish presence and cleansing the area of Palestinian communities.

In any conflict situation, numerous cultural properties are damaged by various motivations, whether as a consequence of military operations (see destruction in over 60% of Gaza Strip sites), lack of enforcement actions, or, in the case of the West Bank, due to the transformation of antiquities by nationalist and messianic Right into an inseparable part of the conflict, making them targets for exploitation. appropriation and destruction.

The SOA Unit has operated in shadows almost since its inception. Attempts to expose the unit’s activities have encountered secrecy barriers under various arguments, including maintaining Israel’s foreign relations and avoiding justifications for academic boycotts (probably there is the understanding within the SOA regarding the problematic political implications of their work). Therefore, SOA activities remain hidden, as do its unit’s work plans and the prioritization of its work. Without such a discussion, it’s difficult to argue the need for legislation, understand the problem and its scope, and the range of solutions to it.


The destruction of sites is a major problem throughout the region, with the main threats being intensive development and conflict. Hundreds of sites each year within Israel and beyond its borders suffer from damage due to construction, infrastructure development, conflicts, and the development of military infrastructure (including hundreds of sites affected by the construction of the separation barrier/wall). In the current conflict, it is estimated that about 60% of cultural and heritage properties in the Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed during the war.

Similarly, sites are also destroyed and looted in the West Bank. The looming question concerns the legitimate boundaries for Israel’s activities, as defined by international law, Israeli laws, conventions, and commitments to its neighbors and to the international community. The current Israeli policy is leading Israel towards international isolation and potential prosecution by the international courts.

The proposed  legislative amendment ostensibly seeks to address the enforcement and monitoring issues related to archaeological sites. However, given that the SOA operates under a veil of secrecy and its operational data are not public, it is difficult to see this proposal as a professional response, especially since the scope of the problem is unknown, and alternative solutions have not been explored. From a professional standpoint, direct intervention in the field as proposed comes at a very high cost. It will lead to further clashes with the international community, undermine ongoing efforts by the Israeli archaeological community to establish the field on scientific and stable foundations, free from political bias and dramatically increase their isolation vis-a-vis their peers around the world.

Expanding archaeological activities into occupied territories, especially as outlined in legislative amendments, indicates the government’s intent to promote annexation through any means. It also presents a fundamental ethical challenge as long as such activities are conducted as part of a mechanism of oppression and under military auspices. Consequently, Israeli archaeological activity in the West Bank inherently becomes an act of territorial acquisition, deepening Israel’s hold on the West Bank. This action violates international law and norms, disregards the existence of the Palestinian community, and serves as a tool for oppression and annexation.

The proper way to preserve antiquities, which is a common interest of all residents of the region, is based on several necessary actions and principles:

  1. Israel must return to and implement international conventions and agreements to which it is a signatory, and resume dialogue with international organizations such as UNESCO.
  2. Israel must maintain a separation between the Israel Antiquities Authority within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel and the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Unit in the West Bank, preventing the overlap of archaeological activities into West Bank territories.
  3. Israel must take actions to increase regional cooperation and commit mutually to preserving antiquities – establishing a mechanism that allows full participation of Palestinian authorities, notably the Palestinian Antiquities Department, in decision-making, supervision, and activities in the area.
  4. Israel must align its antiquities trade laws with international norms, particularly those relevant to other Middle Eastern countries, by prohibiting the trade in artifacts.
  5. Israel must operate with full transparency in all Israeli archaeological activities in the West Bank – ensuring compliance with accepted academic standards, particularly freedom of information regarding all Civil Administration Archaeology Unit activities in the West Bank.

We call on all Knesset members from all parties not to allow the progress of this destructive legislative process!


Annex A – Translation of P/2345/25: The Israel Antiquities Authority Law (Amendment – Authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Judea and Samaria), 2023

The Twenty-Fifth Knesset

Initiator: MK Amit Halevi

Bill No.: P/2346/25

Antiquities Authority Law (Amendment – Authority of the Antiquities Authority in Judea and Samaria) 2023

Amendment to Section 1

  1. In the Antiquities Authority Law 1989 (hereinafter – the primary law), in Section 1 before the definition of “Antiquities Law” shall come:
    “The area” – as defined in the Emergency Regulations (Judea and Samaria – Jurisdiction in Offenses and Legal Assistance) 1967.

Amendment to Section 5

  1. In Section 5(a) of the primary law, after the word “Israel” shall come “and in the Area”.

Amendment to the Antiquities Law 3.

  1. In the Antiquities Law 1978, in Section 22, everywhere after the word “from Israel” shall come “or from the Area”.

Explanatory Notes

The Antiquities Authority is responsible for handling all matters concerning antiquities in Israel and is authorized to perform any action necessary for the fulfillment of its duties as stated. For this purpose, its powers are regulated in the Antiquities Authority Law.

“It is not a foreign land that we have taken, nor have we set our rule over the property of strangers. This is the inheritance of our Forefathers, which at one time was illicitly conquered, and we, when the opportunity arose, recovered the inheritance of our Fathers.”

These words of Simon the Hasmonean echo the deep and well-known connection of the Jewish people to their land. Despite the fact that the areas of Judea and Samaria are the cradle of the Hebrew nation and despite the presence of archaeological findings of national and international importance from various periods, the current version of the Antiquities Law does not apply tothese areas, and the antiquities in the area have been placed in the hands of the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration under the military government.

There is no dispute that these areas are rich in Jewish history, and thus these findings have no historical or other affiliation with the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the discussion on the political status of the areas of Judea and Samaria is irrelevant to determining Israel’s responsibility for the archaeological findings that belong to its people, hence this bill – which is intended to extend the authority of the Antiquities Authority to these areas as well. Additionally, the Civil Administration lacks the knowledge and means to properly handle the scope of archaeological findings in these areas, and as a result, the condition of antiquities in Judea and Samaria today is dire.

Entire sites are damaged by antiquities theft for economic or nationalistic purposes, which is, of course, a cultural crime that Israel must not ignore. Transferring the responsibility for antiquities in Judea and Samaria to the direct responsibility of the Antiquities Authority will allow it to exercise all its powers in the area and ensure that the professional and organizational authority over antiquities in the territories of Judea and Samaria is entrusted to a professional entity with international scientific standards in an efficient and effective manner. Accordingly, it is proposed to stipulate that the powers of the Antiquities Authority shall also extend to the territories of Judea and Samaria and that the removal of an antiquity from these territories shall be treated as its removal from Israel.

Submitted to the Speaker of the Knesset and its deputies
and laid on the Knesset’s table on the 22nd of Shevat, 5783 (13.02.2023)

Annex B – Translation of The Israel Archaeological Association’s (ILAA) Position Paper on the Proposed Amendment


Members of the Israeli Archaeological Association,

This week, on July 7, 2024, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation raised for discussion a proposed amendment to the Antiquities Law (Authority of the Antiquities Authority in Judea and Samaria), 2023 by MK Amit Halevi (P/2346). At the end of the discussion, the ministers approved the promotion of the legislation, and it will soon be brought for a preliminary vote.

Out of deep concern for the future of archaeology in Israel as an independent and law-abiding field of research, we wanted to inform you of the content of the proposed law, and present the potential negative implications of the amendment, if accepted.

Content of the Proposed Law

According to the proposal, authority over archaeology in Judea and Samaria will be transferred from the Civil Administration (SOA) to the Israel Antiquities Authority. The justifications are that these areas have extensive Jewish history and numerous findings related to this history. The Palestinian Authority has no historical connection to these findings, nor does it have the necessary means or knowledge to handle the large scope of them, which are in poor condition and also experiencing destruction and looting. According to the proposal, this is a cultural crime that Israel cannot ignore. If the law is accepted, the authority will be responsible for enforcement in the West Bank.

Potential Implications of the Law

The proposed law is a blatant attempt to exploit archaeology to promote a certain political agenda.

According to international law, the territories of Judea and Samaria are occupied areas; therefore, direct enforcement of Israeli law by an Israeli government body in these areas, namely the [Israeli] Antiquities Authority, would be interpreted as a violation of international law. We are concerned about the change in the status quo and the implications of the proposed law on Israeli archaeology. The implications affect not only the employees of the [Israeli] Antiquities Authority but the entire archaeological community, touching on the issuance of excavation and survey permits, exhibitions, and scientific publications from excavations, conservation, and participation in the international research communities.

We, the members of the Israeli Archaeological Association’s committee, oppose this move and call on the Minister in charge of the Antiquities Authority, MK Amichai Eliyahu, and all Knesset members to stop the legislative process.