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Israel declares state land on 42 acres surrounding ancient Jewish archaeological site in Judea

Aerial view of the acropolis of Herodium in Judea (Photo: Asaf T./Wikimedia Commons)

The Israeli Civil Administration agency on Monday officially declared the 42-acre territory surrounding the ancient Jewish archaeological site Herodium in Judea as "state land." This means that the site, located south of Jerusalem, will be considered under the control of the Israeli government to be used for government purposes or development and that the construction of the land for private purposes or to build a settlement will not be permitted.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who heads the Civil Administration (CA), underscored that the legal decision is part of “very important processes in the campaign for open spaces [in the West Bank].”

Named after the Judean King Herod who ruled Roman-controlled Judea during the period 37 B.C. and 4 B.C., the Herodium site contains remnants of an ancient palace.

Upper Herodium, looking south. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Yaron Rosenthal, who heads the local Gush Etzion Regional Council, welcomed the decision, which he believes will place Herodium on the map for domestic and international tourism. Due to its location in the southern part of the politically combustible West Bank, Herodium attracts far fewer tourists than the more famous ancient Masada fortress overlooking the Dead Sea, for example.

Rosenthal predicted that the CA's decision would “bring prosperity to the entire region,” stressing that the ancient site of Herodium constitutes “a magnificent testimony to our historical connection with this part of the country.”

Judea and Samaria, internationally known as the West Bank, constitute the historical heartland of Israel and they contain many ancient Jewish sites. However, the sites are threatened by vandalism from both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and individual Muslim radicals,

The Israeli government’s decision to protect the Herodium site comes after Muslim extremists recently demolished the Second Temple period archaeological site of Umm ar-Rihan in Samaria, having transformed it into a parking lot.

While vandalism against ancient Jewish sites in Judea and Samaria is not a new phenomenon, Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu recently assessed that there has been a rise in the number of attacks since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack against residents of Israel's southern border communities.

“Since the outbreak of the war, we have been experiencing increasing attempts to demolish heritage sites throughout Judea and Samaria, and it is our duty, even while we are fighting for our home, to continue fighting for our history,” Eliyahu stated.

“This is our hope for our land. When learning of the destruction, the Archaeology Officer’s Unit conducted an undercover investigation in order to identify those responsible for the damage, raided the home of the main suspect and arrested him. In the coming days, an indictment will be filed against him,” the minister added.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first top U.S. official to recognize the legitimate historical and legal claims of Israeli Jews residing in Judea and Samaria. Known as the Pompeo Doctrine, the former Trump administration stated that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were no longer illegal under international law.

However, like most of the international community, the current Biden administration opposes the expansion of Jewish communities in the disputed area, which the U.S. views as an impediment to peace in the region and a two-state solution.

In February, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the Israeli government’s decision to build an additional 3,000 homes in Judea and Samaria.

“We’re disappointed in the announcement,” Blinken responded.

“It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching and enduring peace, “ he argued.

“They’re also inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion, And in our judgment, this only weakens – it doesn’t strengthen – Israel’s security,” Blinken added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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