Amid the escalating destruction and theft of antiquities by Palestinians at national heritage sites in the West Bank, the government announced Thursday it will approve a $120 million plan to protect the sites. The plan was submitted by Tourism Minister Haim Katz and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
Throughout the West Bank, there are 3,064 Jewish heritage sites, of which 2,452 are in a territory fully under Israeli control. One-third of the sites, 1,150 in number, have been vandalized to varying degrees by Palestinians, and Israel alleges that the Palestinian Authority encourages such actions.
The Hasmonean royal winter palaces overlooking the city of Jericho were damaged by illegal construction. In addition, the Al Orma ancient fortress was completely destroyed two years ago, and a mosque was built on the site.
Besides the destruction of sites, the Palestinian Authority seeks to promote recognition of historically Jewish heritage sites as Palestinian sites by UNESCO and others in the international community. A r delegation of representatives from South Korea visited the Tel Shomron archeological site with representatives of the PA in order to promote the establishment of a Palestinian heritage site there.
Israel plans to install and deploy security measures such as fences, cameras, and drones, and upgrade the infrastructure already available at the sites. In addition, a war room would be established to monitor the sites and collect intelligence to prevent theft and destruction.
The plan will implement projects for heritage preservation, digitization, storage of historical materials, and community engagement through the adoption of sites by nearby settlements. Additionally, access roads will be paved and transportation solutions created to facilitate visits to heritage sites in coordination with the Transportation Ministry. The project will also include international campaigns that will demonstrate to the world the significant damage inflicted on history and archaeology throughout the West Bank, as well as the promotion of professional research on the subject.
"The West Bank is an inseparable part of the history of the Jewish people and the future of tourism. The Ministry sees the great tourism potential in the region and accordingly invests in it. We will work to preserve and cultivate the West Bank," Katz said.
"Those unaware of their past and present will be lost in the fog of their future. The ongoing theft of antiquities in the West Bank, aimed at erasing Jewish history, will not succeed. We are determined to promote this important plan with the goal of fighting the criminal activity of antiquities looting and preserving our eternal homeland," Smotrich said.