Gaza — Israel’s Bar Ilan Research University announced on August 29 the discovery of a 4,000-year-old archaeological village at Khirbet Tibneh, located in the village of Deir Nidham, northwest of Ramallah.
The excavations, which began in late July, are the first of their kind in the West Bank since the 1980s. Permission was granted by the Israeli Civil Administration’s Archeology Unit. The move sparked outrage in Palestine, as Palestinians believe the works are part of Israel’s systematic policy of targeting archaeological areas in the West Bank and appropriating Palestinian antiquities since 1967.
Excavation work was carried out over an area of 50 dunums (about 12 acres). The top of the hill was inhabited from the Bronze Age until Roman times, and the slopes were inhabited from the Hellenistic period to the end of the Arab era, according to the university.
Students from Bar-Ilan University and a number of settlers from the Jewish settlement of Halamish carried out the excavations. Eyewitnesses told the Ultra Palestine news site that the Israeli army was also deployed in the area, along with the excavation workers.
On its website, the university said on June 12 that it had conducted several excavations at a number of archaeological sites, including sites at Khirbet Tibneh in Ramallah.
On August 5, Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Undersecretary Saleh Tawafsha accused Israel of launching a systematic attack on Palestinian antiquities to falsify reality and history.
Tawafasha told state Palestinian radio that “Israeli authorities are carrying out illegal excavations and stealing antiquities” at dozens of sites, including the Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron, Sebastia near Nablus, al-Fraidis in Bethlehem, Tel Dothan near Jenin, as well as Salfit and Ramallah.
He pointed out that of the 7,000 monuments and archaeological sites in the West Bank, 60% are located in Area C, controlled by Israel. Tawafasha said most of them are exposed to destruction, looting and theft by Israel.
Firas Akl, director of the primary care department at the General Administration of Excavations of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that since the beginning of August, Israeli authorities have been excavating at Khirbet Tibneh, apparently looking for the tomb of Joshua Bin Nun, whom Moses appointed as his successor to rule the people of Israel, according to the Torah.
During this process, Israeli archaeologists discovered the ancient village. Akl said: “Available information about the archaeological village discovered is scarce, given that it is located in Area C, under the administrative and security control of Israel. Staff from the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities do not is not allowed to access the archaeological sites located in this area.” The village dates back to the Bronze Age, he said, and Roman and Mamluk coins, human bones and pottery from several eras have been recovered.
Akl argued that the Israeli excavations at Khirbet Tibneh violate international law. He said that the role of the Palestinian ministry is limited to working in areas A and B of the West Bank, in addition to protecting all archaeological sites in these areas.
After 1995, following the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (also known as Oslo II), Israel divided the West Bank into Area A, Area B and Area vs.
Area A represents 18% of the West Bank and is mainly controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B constitutes 21% of the land in the West Bank and the PA is in charge of education, health and the economy. Israel controls all aspects of life in Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank, including security, planning and construction.
“Khirbet Tibneh dates back to the Bronze Age and was inhabited by several civilizations until the Ottoman period. It houses several antiquities dating from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman periods,” Akl explained.
“Ramallah Governorate has many archaeological sites, including Shuqba Cave dating back around 12,000 years, Tell al-Nasba dating from the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages, and Tell al-Tal, which dates back to the Bronze Age, as well as many other ancient archaeological sites in the cities of Ni’lin, Abwein, Deir Ghassaneh and Ras Karkar,” he added.
Akl noted that Israel is still excavating two archaeological sites: Tel Siloun and Khirbet Tibneh. “Israeli forces control hundreds of archaeological sites located in Area C, where personnel from the [Palestinian Ministry of Tourism] archaeological excavations, soundings and restoration work are prohibited. Many of these sites end up being looted by antiquities thieves,” he said.
Deir Nidham, 24 kilometers northwest of Ramallah, has a population of 1,500. Nasr Mizher, the head of Deir Nidham village council, told Al-Monitor that Israel is trying to falsify the facts on the ground and impose a false story.
He noted that the ongoing digging and excavation works in the village are aimed at controlling and hijacking the village of Deir Nizam and oppressing its people.
“The Israeli authorities fenced off the archaeological sites inside the village to make them places of pilgrimage for the settlers. The Halamish settlement was built on village land. Settlers are constantly attacking residents and farmers in the village,” he said.
Mizher added that Israel had seized more than 2,600 dunums (642 acres) of land from the village and installed three iron gates to control the village and the movement of its residents.
“Israel has also set up a military checkpoint on the main street leading to the village, where soldiers carry out the most heinous violations against residents, including humiliating entry and exit inspections. This is in addition to the arrest of a number of its residents on false charges.