Two High Court Petitions in case of Tel Shiloh against settlers’ management of archaeological site and construction of a tourism complex
October 11, 2015
Emek Shaveh petitioned the High Court after the Planning Commission of Judea and Samaria approved the construction a 11,000 square meter tourism complex within Tel Shiloh archaeological site in the West Bank this August. The plan threatens unprecedented damage to the ancient remains while serving the political interests of area settlers. This joins another petition filed by Qaryut council head, Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din against the site’s management by private foundation Mishkan Shiloh.
Background: 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 expropriated 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 Shilo, 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, banquet hall, commercial and tourism centers, a motel, parking lots, and more.
The Basis for the Petition: Emek Shaveh’s petition, filed by Attorney Itay Mack, argues that 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 animal area of 300m² needed in addition to a barn and an animal 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.
A second petition against the management Tel Shiloh by the “Mishkan Shiloh” and the Binyamin Regional Council: Tel Shiloh was never declared a national park; rather, since 2010 the Mishkan Shiloh Association has de facto managed the site (it was established in 2010 for this purpose), with the approval of the Binyamin Regional Council and the ICA. Though Mishkan Shiloh has no legal basis, in 2011-2013 its income from this activity amounted to about 3.5 million NIS. The association represents Tel Shiloh as a Jewish site with other periods seen as negligible or minor. To date, no event was held that was intended for the local Palestinian population. The military commander has prohibited the entry of Qaryut villagers to the site, which sits on their expropriated lands. This arrangement violates international law and the rights of the Palestinians to their lands and cultural heritage.
In the petition to the High Court by Emek Shaveh, Yesh Din, and Qariyut council head Nizar Mohammed Dib Mahmoud, we demand to cancel the cooperation agreements between Mishkan Shiloh and the ICA, and to prevent the association or the Regional Council from being responsible for the management or development of the site.
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 (Sussia 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 the powerlessness of the Archaeological Staff Officer of the ICA and its inability to protect archaeology from political plans unparalleled in archaeological sites within Israel.
To read Emek Shaveh’s report Tel Shiloh (Khirbet Seilun), click here.
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