Gaza — Israeli Bar Ilan research university announced Aug. 29 the discovery of a 4,000-year-old archaeological village in Khirbet Tibneh, located in Deir Nidham village, northwest of Ramallah.
The excavations, which began in late July, are the first of their kind in the West Bank since the 1980s. Authorization was granted by the Israeli Civil Administration's Archaeology Unit. The move stirred outrage in Palestine, since 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 works were carried out over an area of 50 dunums (about 12 acres). The hill summit was inhabited from the Bronze Age until the Roman era, and the slopes were inhabited from the Hellenistic period to the late Arab era, according to the university.
Students from Bar-Ilan University and a number of settlers from the Jewish Halamish settlement did the excavation. Eyewitnesses told Ultra Palestine news website that the Israeli army also deployed in the area, along with the excavation workers.
On its website, the university indicated on June 12 that it had conducted several excavations in a number of archaeological sites, including sites in Khirbet Tibneh in Ramallah.
On Aug. 5, the Undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Saleh Tawafsha, accused Israel of launching a systematic attack on Palestinian antiquities to falsify reality and history.
Tawafasha told the official Palestinian radio that the “Israeli authorities are carrying out illegal excavations and theft of antiquities” in dozens of sites, including in the Tel Rumeida area in Hebron, in Sebastia near Nablus, in al-Fraidis in Bethlehem, in Tel Dothan near Jenin, and in Salfit and Ramallah.
He pointed out that of the 7,000 landmarks 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 at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that since the beginning of August, Israeli authorities have been excavating in Khirbet Tibneh, ostensibly searching 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 archeologists found the ancient village. Akl said, "The available information about the discovered archaeological village is scarce, given that it is located in Area C, under Israel’s administrative and security control. The staff of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities are 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 items from several eras were recovered.
Akl argued the Israeli excavations in Khirbet Tibneh violate international law. He indicated that the Palestinian ministry's role 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 signature of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (also known as Oslo II), Israel divided the West Bank into Area A, Area B, and Area C.
Area A accounts for 18% of the West Bank and is mostly controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B constitutes 21% of the West Bank lands and the PA is in charge of education, health and economy. Israel controls all aspects of life in Area C, amounting to 60% of the West Bank, including security, urban planning and construction.
“Khirbet Tibneh dates back to the Bronze Age and has been inhabited by several civilizations until the Ottoman period. It is home to several antiquities dating back to the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic ages from the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman periods,” Akl explained.
“Ramallah governorate has many archaeological sites, including Shuqba Cave dating to around 12,000 years ago, Tell al-Nasba dating back to 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 towns 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 the staff of the [Palestinian Ministry of Tourism] are banned from carrying out archaeological excavations, surveys, and restoration works. 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 history.
He noted that the ongoing digging and excavation works in the village are aimed to control and misappropriate the village of Deir Nizam and oppress its residents.
“The Israeli authorities have fenced the archaeological sites inside the village to turn them into pilgrimage sites for settlers. The Halamish settlement was built on the village's lands. The settlers are constantly attacking the residents and farmers of the village,” he said.
Mizher added that Israel seized more than 2,600 dunums (642 acres) of the village's lands, and installed three iron gates to control the village and the movement of its residents.
“Israel also set up a military checkpoint on the main street leading to the village, where soldiers practice the most heinous violations against the residents, including humiliating inspections during entry and exit. This is in addition to the arrest of a number of its residents on false accusations.”