RAMALLAH: Palestinians have expressed outrage after teams from an Israeli university launched a series of archaeological excavations in a village north of Ramallah.
Residents of Nabi Saleh said the excavations were taking place on their property, although representatives from both Bar Ilan University and the Israeli Civil Administration said the site was classified as “state land” under Israeli control.
According to the university’s website, the archaeological site was inhabited during the Bronze Age and formed part of the city of Timnat Herres, which is described in the Talmud as the place where Joshua bin Nun lived and died. It is therefore evidence of the settlement of Jews in the area.
Pottery and coins found in the area date back to the second century, it said.
Village resident Basim Al-Tamimi, who owns 1,800 square meters of land in one of the areas being excavated, told Arab News he feared the Israeli authorities were trying to take control of his and his uncle’s property.
“Digging in the ground under the pretext of searching for antiquities is just an excuse and a reason to take control of our land later,” he said.
Al-Tamimi led a prominent non-violent resistance in Nabi Saleh from 2009-16 against settlers and the Israeli army after they seized a local water spring. Six Palestinians were killed during the conflict and hundreds more were injured.
Naji Al-Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council, told Arab News that the Israeli excavations were concentrated in three places and that each excavation site covered about 100 square meters.
While Israeli archaeologists said the excavation program was set to run from July 25 to Aug. 19 but there are no signs of the digging coming to an end.
“Bar Ilan University is known to be a stronghold of the Israeli right, whose goals are more political than archaeological,” Naji Al-Tamimi said.
“They will claim they have a historical relationship with the region through the presence of the tomb of Joshua bin Nun, and then seize it under that pretext.”
He added that the nearby Halamish settlement had been built on a plot that had earlier been seized from Nabi Saleh and feared the latest dig would lead to more of the village’s land being taken.
As evidence of the land belonging to the state, Bar Ilan University said there had been a Jordanian military base on it in the past, while aerial photographs suggested it had not been worked since 1967.
According to Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayieh condemned the excavations and declared the university’s actions as unacceptable and an attempt to “falsify the facts regarding the history of the Palestinian land.”
At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Shtayieh called for Israeli universities to stop digging and excavating antiquities in Palestinian territories.
Meanwhile, Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University, told Arab News that international scientific journals had refused to publish archaeological reports on excavations by Israeli teams working in occupied lands in line with international law and the Second Protocol to the Hague Charter.