Preservation works in Shaar Zion, Jerusalem
Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority
Damage in Avdat
Photo: Yigal Dekel
Warning: Israel's heritage sites in danger
International workshop of experts dealing with risks facing World Heritage sites convenes in Akko. Antiquities Authority, National Commission for UNESCO say sites are at risk of destruction in event of natural disasters, vandalism by man
Jerusalem, Masada, Caesarea – are they here to stay? The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel National Commission for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned Wednesday that heritage sites in Israel are at risk of destruction in the event of natural disasters and being vandalized by man.


Out of a desire to prepare for possible emergency scenarios and to protect the heritage sites in the country that are among the most important in the world, the Antiquities Authority and the Israel National Commission for UNESCO this week convened a three-day international workshop of experts for the purpose of brainstorming and consulting authorities from around the world who cope with risks and natural disasters.


Experts arrived in Akko from many different countries such as Italy, Jordan, Japan, China, Peru and Tanzania.


According to Ra’anan Kislev, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department, “Israel is located in a region that is highly susceptible to earthquakes because of its proximity to the Rift Valley – a region of active faults where strong earthquakes have already struck that have left destroyed cities in their wake in Israel and neighboring lands. The last great earthquake struck Israel in 1927.


"An earthquake of high magnitude can cause severe damage to life and property, including irreversible damage to cultural heritage, especially at sites which are situated just a few kilometers from the Rift Valley. The Old City of Jerusalem, Masada and Bet She’an are amongst these sites”.


Kislev also said that “due to the collapse of the coastal cliff owing to changes in the sea level, many heritage sites along the coast are in real danger of erosion and collapse (Apollonia, Caesarea, Ashkelon and Atlit)."


As for the vandalism at the Avdat National Park, he said, “This demonstrates the need to protect heritage sites from intentional damage by establishing suitable guard and security systems.”


Challenge shared by all countries

Dr. Avi Shapiro, chairman of the Inter-ministry Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness, said that “the last time a powerful earthquake occurred in the region of Bet She’an was in 746 CE. This means that a tremendous amount of energy has accumulated in the region over the course of hundreds of years and is waiting to be released.


"I anticipate this release will happen sometime in the near future, in geological terms. We anticipate that such an earthquake in the Bet She’an region will have consequences over a radius of 70 kilometers, meaning also in the region of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”


Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, declared that "the test of the organizations responsible in the State of Israel for saving the sites that are among the most important to mankind will be in preliminary inter-ministerial coordination and preparedness – and not in an investigation the day after. The Israel Antiquities Authority is committed to lead the way in risk disaster preparedness for the heritage sites in Israel and around the world.


"Risk disaster preparedness facing cultural heritage sites is a challenge that is shared by all of the countries of the world. The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Israel National Commission for UNESCO, held a workshop that places Israel as the leader in a process that will eventually create a rapid response mechanism to minimize damage in a case of emergency and improve response capability and rehabilitation due to natural disasters”.


He also informed the conference attendees that “the Israel Antiquities Authority is prepared to cooperate with every professional body in the world in order to study and properly plan for a possible natural disaster.”


Professor Mike Turner, chairman of the Israel World Heritage Committee and UNESCO representative, said that “Israel is a center and important junction in the history of the world. As such it is rich in sites with global importance that represent all of the historic periods and the three religions.


"This important workshop is the second in a series of workshops organized by UNESCO, the purpose of which is to take preventive steps. The first workshop was held a year ago in Olympia, Greece. All of the experts who participated in the workshop share a concern and desire to protect the heritage sites from dangers. It is our duty to preserve these sites for us and the generations after us”.


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