Press Release: Despite approval of Tel Shiloh (Khirbet Seilun) construction plan, important achievements for struggle by Emek Shaveh and Qariyut residents

 August 12, 2015

Although the Planning Committee of the West Bank approved the plan, significant decisions were made: Palestinians to have regulated entry to the site, Archaeology Staff Officer is responsible for approving individual building plans

Background: Tel Shiloh archaeological site is located near the Shilo settlement between Nablus and Ramallah. East of Shiloh are Esh Kodesh and Adi Ad outposts, where the so-called “hilltop youth” are concentrated. In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to turn the archaeological site into a major tourist destination 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 biblical Tabernacle and the ancient Jewish community were located here. The story presents the place as the cradle of the ancient nation that cannot be cut off geographically and symbolically from Israel.

Plans to build a tourist center at the Tel Shiloh site were submitted to the Planning and Building Committee of the Civil Administration (CA) in March 2014. The construction began before the plan’s approval, and was halted only after we contacted the CA’s legal advisor. Immediately thereafter the CA published a new master plan for Tel Shilo. The plan (Yesha 15/205) proposed by the Binyamin Regional Council focused on tourism development on the mound (tel) and its surroundings, totaling more than 300 dunam. The plan consists of 11,000 square meters, including an amphitheater, banquet hall, commercial and tourism centers, a motel, parking lots and more.

Emek Shaveh opposed the plan due to 3 major reasons: The use of archeology for political purposes, the fear that massive construction in the ancient site would harm the antiquities, and the fact that it excluded local Palestinians’ access to cultural heritage belongs to them as well.

For further information: Tourist center construction plan.

On August 10 the subcommittee’s decisions regarding the construction plan at Tel Shilo were published. The main points are:

  1. Contrary to the present situation, Palestinian visitors must be allowed free entry to the ancient site Tel Shiloh, located within the Shiloh settlement (until now a special permit was required to enter). This is an unprecedented decision because until now, the West Bank Palestinians are excluded and even expelled (e.g. Sussia in the south Hebron hills) from archaeological sites on whose lands they lived or which they owned.
  1. Emek Shaveh’s claims that the Binyamin Regional Council carried out illegal construction in the archaeological site were recognized. The committee stated that the offenders should be brought to justice, but unfortunately approved the plan, thereby rewarding the criminals. This decision contradicts Israeli Supreme Court rulings that illegal construction must not be authorized. The committee has thus rewarded criminality, creating a slippery slope that invites similar offenses and illegal construction in ancient sites.
  1. The Committee recognized that massive construction threatens the ancient site, and therefore did not approve the general master plan, but decided that the Archaeology Staff Officer will have to approve construction plans and individual structures on a case-by-case basis.
  1. The Archaeology Staff Officer (ASO) is to re-examine the area to be declared an antiquities site, currently based on British Mandate-era decisions.
  1. The committee approved the plan to develop the Tel Shiloh archaeological site. It permitted the commercial uses on the site and gave a great deal of power to the ASO to approve or reject construction plans for tourist and commercial buildings around the site.

In summary, Emek Shaveh calls on the Archaeology Staff Officer to act according to his professional mandate and prioritize the ancient remains in Tel Shiloh, so that they will not be harmed by the economic and ideological interests that the settlers are trying to promote.

In the coming days we will study the Committee’s decisions in depth and consider our next steps accordingly.

To read Emek Shaveh’s report Tel Shiloh (Khirbet Seilun), click here.

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