Press release: Contract allocating Hebron archaeological site (Tel Rumieda) to settlers cancelled

November 5, 2015

Following a petition by Breaking the Silence, Emek Shaveh, and Tel Rumeida residents, the Civil Administration announced that by the end of the year it will nullify the allocation of Tel Rumeida archaeological park to the Jewish settlement in Hebron! We are further assured that a new allocation will be submitted to the Attorney General. This means that the settlers will not be able to manage the site in its current form and that the opening date they set is delayed. We hope that at the end of this struggle the Palestinian residents of Hebron will manage the archaeological park. The ruling refers to two plots of land located in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. As stated in the State of Israel’s response to the petition, Israel (and the settlers) intended to use the park to strengthen the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

Background: In January 2014 a new archaeological excavation began in Tel Rumeida, Hebron. Its aim was to prepare the ground for an archaeological park to be managed by the ‘Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron.’ The excavation took place in an area overlooking the Jewish settlement (‘Admot Yeshai’ neighborhood) and among the homes of Palestinians (to the southwest of the settlement). The tel (archaeological mound) is located on the western edge of the area under Israeli control (H2) and encroaches into Palestinian territory. The excavation was directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ariel University, and funded by the Israeli government.

The archaeological park is a direct continuation of the settlement enterprise in Hebron and Tel Rumeida in particular. Today, tourism is concentrated around the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: it is mainly religious, consisting of worshipers and Israeli settlers. The archaeological park will be a means to expand tourist routes into distant parts of the city and turn lively streets where Palestinians live into abandoned ones. The archaeological park will increase the physical presence of Israelis in Hebron, add a national-historic site to the Jewish part of the city, and form a key tool in the settlers’ drive to influence public opinion.

Tel Rumeida contains archaeological remains from the beginning of Hebron, from 4000 years ago and the Iron Age. The current excavation exposed archaeological finds of industrial and water storage facilities from the Roman period. Also, part of the wall of Hebron was excavated from the Middle Bronze Age II – 17th to the 18th centuries BCE.

The legal battle: The organizations Breaking the Silence and Emek Shaveh together with Palestinian residents filed a petition in March 2015 via Attorney Michael Sfard against the allocation of the site to the settlers, claiming that the allocation was made without tender and was not done according to the rules. The petition also claimed that the Palestinian residents of Hebron should manage site, not the settlers.

Significance of the decision: The Civil Administration recognized that the allocation to the settlers was not made properly. It therefore preferred to avoid discussion in court and canceled the agreement. The struggle for the future of the archaeological park in Hebron is still far from over, and we believe that the settlers will seek to foster a new agreement. The state said that any new  agreement had to be approved by the Attorney General means that the Civil Administration understands that ancient sites and heritage sites cannot be distributed to the settlers according to their demands and political pressures.

We hope that a similar decision will be made about Tel Shiloh, an archaeological site in the northern West Bank. Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din have filed a petition against the management of the archaeological site at Shiloh by the settler organization operating there. For information on the battle in Shiloh, click here.

For more information about Tel Rumeida, click here.

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