Israel to fund historical renovations in occupied areas

Contested heritage

Published on 21 December 2010

Author(s): AFP/Yahoo news

Type:  News

The Palestinians oppose any Israeli moves in the West Bank but the Israeli government said the controversy surrounding the list was not justified.

Israel approved funding on Tuesday for renovations at 16 historical and cultural sites, including three in the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights, the government said."A ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today approved 16 projects and sites for renovation at a cost of 91.1 million shekels (25.3 million dollars/19.2 million euros)," a government statement said.

They are some of more than 150 sites on Israel's national heritage list, a plan that sparked widespread international condemnation when it was published earlier in the year for including two disputed West Bank shrines. The flashpoint Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem were not on the list approved on Tuesday, which included Herod's Tomb in the West Bank and two sites in the Golan Heights.

"The heritage project is one we owe ourselves, our children and future generations," said Netanyahu. "We are not here by chance. The story of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, the story of Zionism, the story of our cultural and historical heritage and our unique connection to this land is expressed in these sites."

Ancient ruins of Mount Herodion, east of the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem.jpg
Ancient ruins of Mount Herodion, east of the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem (AFP)

The Palestinians oppose any Israeli moves in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and is part of the land Palestinians want for their future state. And Syria demands the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the same war and later annexed, in return for a peace deal.

The two sites to be renovated in the Golan Heights are Gamla, an ancient Jewish hilltop city where residents committed suicide rather than surrender to attacking Roman forces, and Um el-Kanatir, or Rehoboam's Arches, the ruins of a Jewish city and ancient synagogue.

Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser defended the move, and said the controversy surrounding the list was not justified. "It's amusing that every time the heritage issue is raised we have to apologise and explain. There's some sort of media expectation that Israel will carry out a Taliban-style act," Hauser said.

He singled out Herodion, a volcano-shaped hill outside Bethlehem in the West Bank where Herod built a massive fortress and was recently discovered to have been buried, saying it was an archaeological site of international importance. "The tomb complex of Herod himself was found there, a chamber with rare frescoes. If these things are not cared for they will disappear from the face of the earth."

"Any reasonable person, any international community which appreciates cultural heritage, would be obliged to do this. It has nothing to do with the diplomatic agenda," Hauser said.

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