Minister of Heritage Initiates a Plan with Severe Consequences for Palestinians in Area C

In the midst of a serious economic crisis and a provisional government, the Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage transferred 24 million shekels on Monday to local councils in the West Bank for strengthening the apparatuses for surveillance of Palestinians on their own lands.

As part of the attempts by the Israeli government to restrict Palestinian presence in Area C in the past year, broad use has been made of archaeology, while relating to Palestinian building or development plans as destruction of antiquities. In July, 2020, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discussed the subject, based upon data presented by settler organizations that have never been published, raising questions as to their reliability.

The reality in the West Bank is complex – virtually every Palestinian village is built on, or next to, an antiquities site, and living in proximity to such sites is an integral part of the experience of the Palestinian villager.  While salvage excavations were conducted at sites prior to the construction of settlements, the Palestinian villages have been located next to antiquity sites for thousands of years, and now the settlers present every agricultural act or use of a water cistern at an antiquities site as acts of destruction.  They demand that these acts be dealt with accordingly and that the Palestinian should  be prevented from using their land.

Some of the most beautiful archaeological sites in the West Bank, such as Sebastia, have been extremely well-preserved by the Palestinians themselves.  The plan for supervision over the antiquities sites demonstrates the extent to which supervision, enforcement and policing are at the basis of the plan with the antiquities themselves simply being used as a means to an end.

The new plan, unveiled by Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage Rafi Peretz, will allocate 24 million shekels to add supervisors to the team of the Staff Officer for Archaeology, to improve the Civil Administration’s mechanisms for surveillance of the Palestinian population and for the preservation of archaeological sites located in strategic areas adjacent to Palestinian villages or on private Palestinian land. The implementation of the plan will strengthen Israeli control and further limit Palestinian presence in the area.

Minister Peretz unveiled the plan moments before the end of his term, dispersing funds while the State of Israel is in the throes of the deepest financial crisis in its history, and while he is serving in a provisional government. The announcement was made together with Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, at Sebastia, an archaeological site where, for the last number of years, the settlers have pushed for Israeli involvement in its operation and for extricating it from under Palestinian control.  The village of Sebastia is situated within Area B while the site itself is located mainly in area C.

Emek Shaveh’s response:  It seems that the plan that was unveiled on Monday has very little to do with concern for archaeology and heritage.  Antiquities ought to be preserved in partnership with the residents and not in conflict with them.  After the Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage gave out tens of millions of shekels last week for strengthening the settlements in East Jerusalem, he is now allocating tens of millions of shekels to restrict Palestinian presence in Area C.  It is a pity that the Israeli government, and Minister Peretz in particular, use archaeology for political purposes and do not leave  the field of cultural heritage outside the conflict between the Palestinians and the settlers.