Update – The Site of Tel Rumeida in Hebron will Open to the Public

The Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan has succeeded to transfer the management of the archaeological site of Tel Rumeida to the Civil Administration. In the coming months the site will be made ready for visitors and will be managed by the Staff Officer of Parks and Nature Reserves in the Civil Administration – the corresponding body to the Nature and Parks Authority in Israel.

Tel Rumeida is an archaeological mound that contains strata from the ancient city of Hebron. Remains from the establishment of the city in the 18th century BCE to the present day have been discovered at the site. The site is situated in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood at the western end of Area H, which is under Israeli jurisdiction. Tel Rumeida was excavated in an archaeological dig beginning in 2014 to prepare the area for tourism.  According to the original plan, the site was to be managed by the Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron. The Emek Shaveh and Breaking the Silence High Court case against the allocation of the site to the settlers prevented this transfer. We already knew upon submitting the petition that we could at most expect to delay the government’s decision but not overturn it. In the last year the Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan acted to advance the opening of the site to visitors, and several months ago he hinted at the direction of involving the Staff Officer of Parks and Nature Reserves.

It was reported recently that the legal advisor to the Civil Administration has approved transferring the management of the site to the Staff Officer of Nature Reserves and Parks, and to the Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) to prepare it as a public site. Transferring the archaeological park to be managed by the Civil Administration in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority will allow the settlers to promote Hebron as a tourist destination for new audiences. Most of Hebron’s visitors at present come for the purpose of seeing its political reality or to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Involving the INPA in the management of the site will link it to the variety of national parks all over Israel. We assume that the site will be branded as the first capital of King David. According to descriptions in the Bible, King David was in Hebron for 7 years before the conquest of Jerusalem (Samuel 2, chapter 5 verse 5). As mentioned, the site contains remains from the 18th century BCE – certain scholars identify this period as the time of the Patriarchs. In addition, evidence of structures from the First Iron Age has been revealed (12-11 centuries BCE), identified with the end of the Canaanite period and remains from the Second Iron Age (8-7 centuries BCE), the period of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel. Evidence from the 10th century BCE – the days of King David – have never been found at the site.

In July 2017, UNESCO declared Hebron as a world heritage site, but Tel Rumeida was not included, which gave rise to criticism among professional bodies. The government decision at this time with regard to Tel Rumeida is an Israeli attempt to hastily determine facts on the ground.

Turning Tel Rumeida into an Israeli park, a process that began during the previous government, is part of the current government’s intentions to advance Hebron as an inseparable part of Israel. This activity corresponds with the government’s view that Hebron should be protected as Israeli land in any negotiations with the Palestinians.