TEL SHILOH, which is on a list of Israeli national “heritage sites”, has been granted special funding by a ministerial committee which operates under the supervision of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The archaeological site as well as the present visitor facilities are part of the settlement of Shiloh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
According to the story in today’s Haaretz (full text below), “work at the site will be backed by supplementary funds totaling some NIS 10 million, to be provided by private sources”, in addition to the 5 million shekels being granted by the government. I take that to mean that a total of some 15 million shekels, or about $4 million, will be invested in the Shiloh undertaking. The government action is part of a larger allocation funneling special renovation funds to 13 different sites.
Haaretz also says the excavations will be done “with the assistance of the Department of Antiquities”, however there is no Israeli entity by that name! If they actually mean the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), such an involvement would be highly irregular, since West Bank archaeological projects are usually carried out by the so-called “Staff Officer for Archaeology”, which is part of the military occupation apparatus in the territories; the post has been held for many years by Yitzak Magen. Hmm… this could be interesting.
It is also interesting that a number of far-right politicians are up in arms over two other West Bank heritage sites, Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, not being included in the present allocation. It escapes them, apparently, that those places do not need special help at the moment.
* * *
Government allocates NIS 5 million to preserve Tel Shiloh in West Bank
Archaeological excavations and other preservation work will take place at Tel Shiloh, a biblical site in the West Bank, where a large tourist center is also planned as part of the project.
By Jonathan Lis
The ministerial committee that deals with national heritage sites, under the auspices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided last week to embrace a new West Bank project: Thanks to a government allocation of NIS 5 million, archaeological excavations and other preservation work will take place at Tel Shiloh, a biblical site in the West Bank. A large tourist center is also planned as part of the project; visitors there will learn about life in the biblical era in Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was said to have been held for 369 years.
This is a precedent-setting decision, since Israeli governments up to now have not allocated funds for renovation and preservation of the site, located within the area of the Binyamin Regional Council. The committee’s decision to embark on the project states that “Tel Shiloh is a unique heritage asset” for the Jewish people, and mention was made of the fact that work at the site will be backed by supplementary funds totaling some NIS 10 million, to be provided by private sources.
In the months ahead, wide-ranging excavation work is to be undertaken at Tel Shiloh, with the assistance of the Department of Antiquities and the chairman of the head of the national heritage development department in the Prime Minister’s Office, Reuven Pinsky. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar visited the site a few weeks ago, and declared that Tel Shiloh will become part of the tour circuit organized for schools by his ministry. Indeed, an examination by Haaretz shows that Tel Shiloh was added to the Education Ministry tour list just a few months ago. Meanwhile, the ministerial committee for heritage sites decided yesterday to leave the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb off its updated list of sites supported by the government; this move contradicted declarations made by Netanyahu on the subject two years ago.
The exclusion of the two sites stirred sharp criticism in right-wing circles. Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayet Hayehudi) demanded that the sites be reinstated on the list. Yesha council Chairman Danny Dayan said the decision constitutes an attempt to eradicate vital parts of Jewish history. “Instead of standing firm as a wall in opposition to the mendacious Arab narrative, the government is paving a path for it,” claimed Dayan.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said that “this is an unprecedented, grave decision which can be added to a list of other government decisions that have harmed the settlement of Judea and Samaria.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office explained that the two sites were excluded since they do not require immediate renovation and maintenance work. Budgets, they say, can be allocated for them when needs arise.
“Renovation work was done on Rachel’s Tomb a few months ago, and there are no problems at the Tomb of the Patriarchs that require immediate repair work,” the PMO announced. The office also clarified that the ministerial committee regards the two sites as being part of the list of heritage locales, and the decision not to allocate funds to them now does not detract from their importance and centrality vis-a-vis Jewish heritage and history.
The ministerial committee decided unanimously to allocate NIS 72.5 for renovation work at 13 sites. Authorized projects include archaeological sites, museums and archives. Among other projects, yesterday’s decision will earmark funds for restoration work on the windmill in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe quarter, and on upgrading the Umm el-Umdan site near Modi’in, which features remains of a Jewish settlement from the Hasmonean period. Up to now, the government has endorsed 65 heritage projects, among them 40 historical sites; NIS 250 million has been allocated to support these undertakings.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS ON TEL SHILOH:
Shiloh, where I have taken visitors a number of times over the past few years, has long been on a personal list of my own: places which, because of their modern history or problematic legal status –and despite being both extremely interesting and extremely important — create in me a sense of ambivalence if not genuine conflict. On one level are the national parks within Israel proper which were created upon the sites of depopulated and destroyed Palestinian villages from 1948, and there are several in this category, a few of which would probably surprise you. Of another sort are places like the Herodium and Khirbet Qumran: Israeli-run national parks that lie within the occupied territories. Herodium, for example, is one of my favorite places to take people, but in the back of my mind it is always tainted in some way, as an expression of the Occupation.
Now we have, since 2010, a list of places which are designated as “national heritage sites” of the State of Israel, and as such receive large allocations of state funding — some of which are located in the occupied territories. Two years ago at the roll-out of this program, PM Netanyahu placed two West Bank Jewish religious sites, Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, on the list. Predictably, there arose the typical furor, pro and con. The story, as reported by Haaretz is here: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/pm-grants-heritage-status-to-west-bank-religious-sites-1.266045. An example of the “con” side: “This is another attempt to blur the lines between the State of Israel and the occupied territories…” said Meretz chairman Haim Oron. “This decision casts the prime minister’s Bar-Ilan University declaration of two states for two peoples in a ridiculous light.”
Well, I think the man may just have a point: Such places (including, now, Shiloh) lie within territory that was taken by Israel by force of arms in 1967 and has been under belligerent military occupation ever since. They are not “in” Israel, nor do they legally “belong” to Israel. And the new status assigned to these places, and the state money being invested in them, yes, ARE “blurring the lines”.
In the case of Shiloh, there is more. Again, the place is important and extremely interesting, and in fact has every possibility of being the actual biblical site: the place of the Tabernacle for hundreds of years, of the high priest Eli and his evil sons, of Hannah and Elkanah and the late-night call of Samuel — all of it! BUT… for me, a cloud hangs over the place. The reason: the archaeological site itself and the related visitor services have long been in the hands of people who have no right to be there, the settlers of Shiloh. Despite all attempts to obscure the fact, every one of these Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank — an area under military occupation — is 100% illegal under international humanitarian law. Now we have a pile of “private” money being poured in, twice what the state is contributing, to help strengthen the settlers’ hold on the place.
At Shiloh, I foresee another settler-run “national park” on the order of the City of David in Jerusalem (which, in fact, tops my “conflicted” list). I know, some of you are saying: Get over it. Well, *sigh* — I can’t.
AND ON AND ON IT GOES…
23 FEB 2012 / Today’s Haaretz newspaper reports that the illegal settlement of Shiloh has just been granted initial planning approval for major expansion, the building of 600 additional housing units in the coming years. This, despite the numerous solemn promises Israel has made, as part of binding agrements going back decades, to halt completely ALL expansion of its settlements in the occupied territories, including for “natural growth”. So much for agreements… The story is found on-line here: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/west-bank-settlement-of-shiloh-gets-initial-approval-for-600-new-homes-1.414215
AND ON AND ON…
See my June 2014 post on Tel Shiloh: https://israelpalestineguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/going-hog-wild-at-tel-shiloh/