Israel Approves Bill to Expand Presence of Antiquities Authority in West Bank

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs approved a bill on Sunday that aims to expand the powers of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Palestine’s occupied West Bank, according to the Times of Israel. If passed, the bill suggests an increase in Israeli civilian presence at archaeology sites in the region.

Per the report, the bill introduced by Israeli politician Amit Halevi seeks to redistribute power over the West Bank archaeology’s sector, which currently resides with a unit in the Civil Administration, an Israeli governing body managed by the military. The bill states, according to the Times of Israel, that it is based on the premise that historical artifacts discovered there “have no historical or other connection to the Palestinian Authority.” The Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains civilian control in the West Bank.

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“The discussion of the political status of the regions of Judea and Samaria has no relevance to Israel’s responsibility for the archaeological findings belonging to its people,” states the bill, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names. 

In July 2023, the Palestinian Authority (PA) accused Israel of plans to expand its powers over archaeological sites in Palestinian territory, citing multiple raids by Israeli military and settler militias on the Roman-era archaeological village of Sebastia in the northern city of Nablus. The PA called on UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, to intervene, given the UNESCO-supervised renovation project underway in Sebastia’s public plaza.

“This is an attack that falls within a plan to take over Palestinian archaeological sites throughout the West Bank and to impose Israeli control over them and annex them,” the PA’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to the Middle East Monitor.

Archaeology in the occupied West Bank is frequently politicized as part of territorial disputes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. In September of 2023, UNESCO added Tell es-Sultan—a prehistoric site in Jericho—to its World Heritage List, drawing ire from some right-wing Israeli politicians and organizations. The two parties protested the designation at a meeting at Hasmonean Palaces, one of several archaeological sites near Jericho under Israeli control and a new “touristic settlement” formed for the purported defense of world history.

ARTnews has reached out to the Palestinian Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority for comment.


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