Israeli human rights group Yesh Din and the archaeologists at Emek Shaveh have released a new report on how Israel is using archaeology to entrench the occupation of the West Bank. In particular, the Civil Administration, Israel’s military authority in the West Bank, has used archaeology to confiscate Palestinian lands, as in the case of the village of Anata. From the report:
The story of the archaeological site at Tel Alamit (Khirbet Alamit) illustrates how the State of Israel expanded a settlement’s jurisdiction area in order to include an archaeological site that is significantly distant from the built-up area of the settlement, thus preventing Palestinians living nearby from maintaining their cultural, religious, and even proprietary ties to the site and its surroundings.
Tel (Khirbet) Alamit is located on registered private land belonging to residents of the Palestinian village of Anata, in the same place where the village once stood. Today the village is located a few hundred meters from the site, after the historic village was destroyed in 1839 by the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Pasha during his occupation of the area.
Tel (Khirbet) Alamit was declared a historic site and an antiquity site in 1944 by the British Mandate authorities. The site contains a multi-layered two-domed archaeological tel that contains remains of buildings, mosaic floors, residential caves, water cisterns, burial caves, quarried segments, agricultural terraces, and an underground system used for industry including an olive press. The site also contained remains such as stone capitals, dressed stones, a winepress, and more. Most of the finds from the site are dated to the Byzantine period, the Middle Ages and the Ottoman period –as well as remains from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1575 BCE), Iron II, Persian and Hellenistic / Roman periods.
At the perimeter of the mound there is an ancient burial plot associated with Sheikh Abd al-Salaam, considered the founder of the village of Anata, alongside contemporary Arab tombs. To this day, the grave serves as a site of prayer and pilgrimage for the villagers.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority website states that in Tel (Khirbet) Alamit, “structures and underground spaces and a concealment system from the period of the Bar Kochba Revolt” were discovered, and that the site is identified with the Levite city of Almon. But to our knowledge, there is no unequivocal historical or archaeological evidence linking this historical site to the biblical city.
In 1992, the Military Commander in the West Bank (GOC Central Command) determined the area of jurisdiction of the Anatot-Almon settlement and the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, and included within it the area of the archaeological site of Tel (Khirbet) Alamit, in spite of its relatively distant location from the built-up area of the settlement (1,200 meters from the center of the tel to the westernmost houses of the settlement). The Sheikh’s tomb is not within the jurisdictional area, but it is located directly on its border.
Also included in the jurisdiction area are private lands of some residents of Anata. In fact, because Tel (Khirbet) Alamit is surrounded by private Palestinian land, it was impossible to include the archaeological mound in the jurisdiction of the settlement so as to enable geographical continuity between the two, without enclosing the private lands of the villagers.
For the entire Palestinian population, and even for the residents of Anata, the inclusion of Tel (Khirbet) Alamit in the Anatot-Almon settlement’s jurisdiction area effectively bars Palestinians from entering the site due to the military order prohibiting Palestinian entry into the settlements. As a result, owners of land within the jurisdiction area are unable to use or access their lands freely.
The exclusion of Palestinians from the historic site (resulting from the prohibition of entering the area of the settlement) is not only physical but also cultural, historical, and religious. The uncovering of important archaeological finds at the site does not contradict the importance of the site in the eyes of the residents of Anata and in the eyes of the Palestinian public in general. On the contrary: a site of recognized historical importance also highlights Palestinian heritage as part of the historical continuity of the cultures and peoples who have lived there. The historical-biblical context attributed to Tel (Khirbet) Alamit does not invalidate or negate the importance of other historical fragments – ancient or modern – that are also part of its history.
For more on how the Israeli government is using archaeology as a tool of occupation, read the full report.