Biblical altar again vandalized by Palestinian Arabs

Local Jewish residents say the only way to protect Joshua’s Altar is to build a new Jewish farm or town around it.

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: palestinians, Bible, Biblical Heartland
Jewish settlers raise Israeli flags on Mount Ebal near Nablus (biblical Shechem) in Samaria during a visit to the altar of Joshua Ben Nun during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on October 02, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90
Jewish settlers raise Israeli flags on Mount Ebal near Nablus (biblical Shechem) in Samaria during a visit to the altar of Joshua Ben Nun during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on October 02, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90

Palestinian Arabs vandalized an archaeological site in Israel’s biblical heartland that millions of Jews and Christians revere as the location where Joshua built an altar, an Israeli NGO said on Thursday.

The reports of renewed damage to the site on Mount Ebal known as Joshua’s Altar, which is under joint control with the Palestinian Authority, highlights anew the need for the preservation, upkeep and safeguarding of Israeli archaeological sites in PA-controlled areas after decades of neglect.

Israeli activists from the Forum for the Struggle for Every Dunam who visited the site reported that local Arab residents burned tires at the site outside Nablus [Shechem] in Samaria, spray-painted Arabic graffiti and erected a PLO flag on the altar.

“The grave incident that took place this week is a direct result of the lack of Jewish presence on this hill,” the organization said in a statement. “Today, it is clearer than ever that only the fixed Jewish presence of a farm or town will guarantee there is really control over the site, and prevent further damage or destruction of the altar.”

The group said it will hold a prayer service at the site on Friday.

 

Paving over biblical history

In September of last year, Channel 12 reported that the Palestinian Authority had begun building a neighborhood on the site of Joshua’s Altar.

An inspector from the Samaria Regional Council’s Lands Department discovered that the PA had started paving roads as part of a project for 32 housing units on the ruins of the historic site, which is mentioned in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua in the Hebrew Bible.

Following the revelation, Israel’s Civil Administration said that the construction vehicle operating on the site had been confiscated and that the archaeologist in charge of antiquities affairs in Judea and Samaria had opened an investigation.

The site, near Shechem (Nablus), is in Area B of Judea and Samaria per the Oslo Accords, which falls under PA administrative control and joint PA-Israeli security control.

The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, demanded that the Civil Administration intervene to stop the work immediately.

“No barbarian will be allowed to destroy this [site] of the people of Israel and human history. A disaster of heritage and history,” said Dagan.

“It is a real disaster. It is impossible that in the days of the sovereign state of Israel we will allow under our noses damage to the only historical site that proves the status of the entry of the people of Israel into its land in the days of Joshua,” he continued.

 

Palestinians smell weakness

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in January of last year that Israel would not allow Palestinians to Joshua’s Altar.

In a letter sent to Knesset member Limor Son Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit), Gallant wrote that he had instructed the IDF to carry out frequent patrols in the area, and to prevent any activity which could damage the site.

Moshe Gutman, chairman of the “Keepers of the Eternal,” a coalition of organizations for the protection, preservation and development of antiquities and heritage sites in Judea and Samaria, said that Gallant had broken his promise to protect the site from Palestinian intrusion.

“The Palestinians recognized Israel’s weakness and it was decided to destroy Israel’s most valuable heritage asset in Samaria. If the country does not come to its senses now, the altar and its surroundings will be destroyed and lost forever. I call on the prime minister and ministers of the Israeli government to address the issue immediately,” said Gutman.

Israeli officials said in March 2023 that Palestinian road construction had damaged the ancient town of Sebastia, one of the major archaeological sites of the Holy Land, which served as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel nearly three millennia ago.

 

Iron Age compound

Mount Ebal was an early Israelite cultic site near the ancient city of Shechem, which appears in the Bible as the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel.

Under the Oslo Accords, the largely deserted Iron Age compound, which dates to the 11th century BCE, has been under Israeli security and Palestinian civilian control for the last quarter century.

Israeli Jews are not allowed to visit the site without military coordination.

In the past, groups of evangelical Christians routinely visited the site with an IDF escort.

With reporting by JNS.

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