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Political archaeology advances in West Bank

Israel's Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the construction of an "archaeological park" on the ancient site of Tel Rumeida, near the Jewish settlement in the divided West Bank city Hebron, Israeli media revealed this week. Critics on left are assailing the project as cover for expansion of the city's Jewish settlement. Settlers who petitioned for state support of the project say they believe the site to be the location of biblical Hebron. Archaeologists from Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority began excavations at the site Jan. 5. The new archaeological park and anticipated tourist attraction are slated to open by year's end. While the Tel Rumeida site is officially Jewish-owned, a Palestinian family lived on the site and worked the land as protected tenants until the Second Intifada of 2000, when they were evicted.

"This is settlement expansion under the guise of archaeology," Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer told Ha'aretz nrespaper. "Under US Secretary of State John Kerry's nose, Defense Minister [Moshe Ya’alon] is enabling the settlers to expand and change the status quo in the most sensitive part of the West Bank."

Local Hebron activists with Youth Against Settlements also charged that work was being undertaken for a new outpost, noting that a mobile home had been placed on the site, Ma’an news agency reported.

The Israeili military's Civil Administration for the West Bank told Haaretz that it habitually undertakes maintenance and restoration projects in archaeological sites throughout the West Bank, "regardless of the future of these sites in any future agreement." (HaaretzTimes of Israel, Jan. 9)

The dispute recalls those over Israel's "National Heritage Sites" list (which included sites not within its national territory), the so-called "Jerusalem Greenbelt" plan, and the ongoingpolitical archaeology at the Temple Mount.

More settler attacks
Settlers entered the West Bank village of Orif near Nablus on Jan. 6 and attacked a Palestinian house with hurled rocks while Israeli soldiers looked on, video filmed by human rights group B'Tselem revealed. The army admitted that the troops did not act as required. The troops did nothing to stop the settlers, who apparently came from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar. But the soldiers finally fired tear gas grenades at students who came out of a nearby school to throw rocks back at the settlers.

"The video shows that the army, which is supposed to protect the Palestinians in the West Bank, actually served as backup for violent settlers," B'Tselem said in a statement. "The army gave the settlers backup in attacking the Palestinians and their property."

An IDF spokesman said: "A preliminary examination indicates that the troops did not act as required. The troops are instructed not to let masked people take action but to document their actions and pass the matter on to the police. The orders to the troops will be reissued." (Haaretz, Jan. 9)

Apartheid landfill in Bethlehem
This week also saw outrage over Israeli authorities preventing Palestinians from using landfill at al-Minya to the east of Bethlehem while allowing Israeli settlers continued access. According to Haaretz, the Civil Administration informed Palestinian officials that they would not be allowed to use the landfill for waste disposal—despite the fact that it had been funded by the World Bank precisely for that purpose.

Israeli residents of local settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, meanwhile, would be allowed to use it—despite the fact that landfills inside Israel are also available to these residents.

The landfill has been under construction for the last two years on Area C lands—those designated as under full Israeli control. The facility is the first modern waste landfill in the southern West Bank. It was built to serve the needs of nearly 800,000 residents of Bethlehem and Hebron regions, amounting to around 34% of all solid waste in the West Bank. (Ma'an, Jan. 10; Haaretz, Jan. 9)

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