Press Release Layers of illegality at the Tel Shiloh archaeological site – High Court hearing

On Wednesday, February 15 the High Court will hear Emek Shaveh’s petition against the plan to build a 11,000 sqm. building at the Tel Shiloh archaeological site in the settlement of Shiloh, north of Ramallah. Emek Shaveh submitted the petition following continuous illegal construction at the heart of the archaeological area. The Binyamin Regional Council and the settler organization “Mishkan Shiloh”, who manage the site, are responsible for many instances of illegal building including:
1. Establishment of agricultural greenhouses 2. Construction of an observation tower and tourism center at the heart of the archaeological mound. 3. Construction of additional buildings such as a stadium, parking lots and others. All this has been carried out illegally, prior to an approved building plan. The settlers invest dozens of millions of shekels in developing the site, while damaging the antiquities and transforming it into a tourist experience that supports the settlement enterprise. Tel Shiloh has been transformed into a key tourism, commercial and political project in the Shiloh region, and all this under the guise of archaeological works.

Following the approval of a building plan for 11,000 sqm inside the Tel Shiloh archaeological site by the Judea and Samarea Higher Planning Council, Emek Shaveh appealed the plan. We claim that implementing this plan will result in unprecedented damage to a unique archaeological site, which is thousands of years old, holding it hostage to the political interests of the settlers.

Tel Shiloh is located near Shiloh settlement and the Palestinian village of Qaryut, between Nablus and Ramallah. East of Tel Shiloh are the outposts “Esh Kodesh” and “Adi Ad,” which attract young men known as the “hilltop youth.”

The Tel Shiloh archaeological site contains remains from the 18th century BCE, including a Canaanite city on the multi-layered mound (tel). Impressive mosaic remnants of churches testify to the wealth of the city during the Byzantine period. Inhabitation continued during Muslim periods, as demonstrated by mosques found in the area; at least one was in use until the 1970s. In the 1980s, Israeli excavations began in the antiquities site on land belonging to Qaryut village. Its residents were expelled from this area, which was incorporated into the Shiloh settlement.

In recent years Israeli authorities and settler groups are investing considerable efforts to turn the archaeological site into a major tourist center that will attract many visitors. The visitor experience in Tel Shiloh is primarily based on the biblical story, and establishes without any archaeological and scientific basis, that the Tabernacle and ancient Jewish community were located here. The place is presented as the cradle of the nation that cannot be cut off geographically and symbolically from Israel.

In March 2014 Binyamin Regional Council submitted plans to build a tourist center at the Tel Shiloh site to the Planning and Building Committee of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA). The construction began before the plan’s approval, and was halted only after we contacted the ICA’s legal advisor. Immediately thereafter the ICA published a new master plan for Tel Shiloh, proposed by the Binyamin Regional Council. The plan (Yesha 15/205) focuses on tourism development on the tel and its surroundings, totaling more than 300 dunam. It consists of 11,000 square meters, including an amphitheater, an events hall, commercial and tourism centers, a hotel, parking lots, and more.
The Basis for the Petition:

Emek Shaveh’s petition, filed by Attorney Itay Mack, arguesthat this is an outrageous plan for construction within an ancient tel, promoted by the ICA in a negligent way that is contrary to common sense. The volume of construction in an archaeological site is unprecedented. For example, the building plan designates 1,000 square meters for an events hall, 500m² for a conference hall, a visitor center area of 1,400m², a petting zoo with an area of 300 m², and a 60-room hotel with an area of 4,850 m². There is also no explanation about the duplication of functions. What is the need for both a commercial tourist complex of 800 square meters and another for 900m²? Why is an petting corner of 300m² needed in addition to a barn and a pen?

If approved, the plan will transform the archaeological site into a commercial and entertainment center, severing any connection to the cultural heritage embodied in the ancient remains. It is likely to change the site beyond recognition and to harm the many antiquities located there.
Significance of the Plan for the Region: Tel Shiloh is the most important archaeological site south of Nablus. The antiquities should be accessible to the Palestinian general public. They should not serve to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in the region, as is being done elsewhere (Sussya in the West Bank, the City of David in Jerusalem, and more), in violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians. The plan’s implementation would testify to thepowerlessness of the Staff Officer for Archaeology within the ICA and its inability to protect archaeology from political plans unparalleled in archaeological sites within Israel.