The government decided in its weekly meeting on Monday, 17.07.2023, a long-term plan aimed at developing and establishing 4 to 7 new touristic settlements in the occupied territories, including one within the Palestinian city of Jericho, and to provide millions of NIS for prevention and destruction of Palestinian houses and property and for advocacy and education for the Israeli and the international public. This decision joins a previous decision from May to establish a tourist settlement in the Palestinian community of Sebastiya and the allocation of 32 million NIS for this purpose. Hence the total number of new settlements that the government has approved totals 6 to 9, with an overall investment of more than 150 million NIS.
The official purpose of the plan is for “restoring, preserving, developing, and preventing the destruction and looting of antiquities in the West Bank.” The cost of the decision is approximately 120 million NIS, and it complements an investment of 32 million NIS in the development of a tourism site in the settlement of Sebastiya, which was decided upon in May of this year. The main elements of the plan include (a) establishing a new tourist settlement at the archaeological site “Hasmonean Palaces” adjacent to the Palestinian city of Jericho, with access for Israeli citizens without crossing into Area A; (b) establishing 4-7 new tourist settlements at additional archaeological sites to be determined later; (c) monitoring of antiquities’ destruction, strictly preventing construction and agricultural work by Palestinians in Area C; construction of a new archaeological museum with an unspecified location, but it will be within the occupied West Bank, and (d) allocating 13 million NIS for education and public outreach. The implication of the decision will deepen the friction between settlers and Palestinians by establishing these new tourist settlements and make life even more difficult for Palestinians in Area C through strict surveillance of their activities.
150 million NIS and the establishment of at least 6 tourist settlements
The government decision to allocate approximately 120 million shekels for archaeology in the occupied West Bank, in addition to the 32 million shekels for the archaeological site in Sebastiya decided upon in May, is part of the coalition agreements between Likud and the Jewish Power Party (Clause 97 of the agreement) to promote a national emergency plan to prevent the looting and destruction of antiquities and strengthen heritage in the Judean Desert, Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, with a total cost of 150 million shekels.
In the initial stage, the Israeli government will establish a new tourist settlement at the Palestinian city of Jericho (at the site of the “Hasmonean Palaces”). This new settlement, alongside the settlement in Sebastiya, will serve as a constant basis for friction between Palestinians and settlers and will require the military to allocate additional manpower and resources to protect them. Furthermore, the proposal states that the evaluation committee will examine the development of 4-7 additional sites. Hence, the decision to develop the sites in Sebastiya and Jericho, in addition to the 4-7 sites, implies the establishment of 6 to 9 new tourist settlements in the West Bank.
The plan for monitoring and preventing the destruction of antiquities will lead to severe impact on Palestinian residents in Area C.
Archaeological sites in the West Bank are marked as polygons, which are areas where antiquities are known or suspected to exist. All Palestinian villages in Area C are built on or near archaeological sites. When a piece of land falls within an archaeological polygon, it cannot be cultivated or built upon without permission from the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Department, the body responsible for antiquities in the West Bank’s Area C. In cases of proper construction planning (within Israel, for example), various authorities find alternative solutions by locating alternative building areas or through “salvage excavations” that preserve the antiquities, thereby safeguarding them.
However, since the Civil Administration does not promote development plans in Palestinian villages in Area C, residents have no alternative options for construction. As a result, there are many cases of construction within the archaeological polygons. Increasing enforcement means expanding demolition orders and work stoppages for Palestinians who cultivate their lands, creating a situation that prevents Palestinians from maintaining a reasonable way of life in their villages located in Area C. In practice, enforcement without alternatives, under the pretext of protecting antiquities, is another means of restricting the activities of Palestinians in Area C.
Alongside the establishment of tourist settlements, it can be observed from the budget allocation that the plan includes significant investments in education and guidance to emphasize the importance of the sites for the Jewish people, archaeological research, signage, and more.
- – Preservation and restoration of archaeological sites – 17 million NIS.
- – Monitoring and enforcement for the prevention of antiquities destruction – 10 million NIS. One-time expenditure for expanding, monitoring, alerting, and enforcement abilities; procurement of technological equipment and for on-the-ground networking systems.
- – Economic development of heritage sites – 48.2 million NIS. Development of 4-7 selected sites by an evaluation committee.
- – Preservation and development of the Hasmonean Palaces site in Jericho – 20 million NIS. The Hasmonean Palaces are located in Area C, adjacent to the Palestinian city of Jericho, which mostly falls under Areas A and B. Currently, access to the site passes through Area A. Beyond the site development, the goal of the program is also to enable access and regulate the movement of Israeli visitors from Area C into the site itself. In the past, there have been reports of plans to build a bridge over Area A to allow Israelis to reach the site.
- – Signage along Highway 60 – 0.45 million NIS. Signboards and guidance along Highway 60 that cross the West Bank to various archaeological sites facilitating access for Israelis.
- – Heritage education and community engagement – 13 million NIS + establishment of a heritage center for West Bank antiquities – 10 million NIS. This includes public outreach and education on the importance of site preservation and the fight against antiquities destruction, both domestically and internationally. Additionally, the possibility of establishing an archaeological museum showcasing discoveries in the West Bank since 1967 will be examined.
- – Scientific research and publications – 4 million NIS. The main cost of this clause is for scientific archaeological surveys and excavations, which can amount to hundreds of thousands or even millions of shekels. It is reasonable to assume that the research budget will be primarily allocated to excavations in the field.
For the implementation of this decision, a designated budget of 89 million NIS will be allocated for the years 2023-2025, distributed as follows: 36 million NIS in 2023, 34.5 million NIS in 2024, and 18.5 million NIS in 2025. In addition to this amount, 20 million NIS will be allocated for access development to the Hasmonean Palaces (Jericho) and 10 million NIS for the establishment of an archaeological museum. It is worth noting that in May of this year, the government allocated 32 million NIS for the development of an archaeological tourism site in Sebastiya.
Hence the total amount for the development and monitoring of archaeological sites in the West Bank for the three years 2023-2025 stands at 154.65 million NIS, 122.65 million NIS under this decision, and 32 million NIS from the decision in May for the establishment of the settlement at Sebastiya.
Peace Now: “The Israeli government continues to settle in the West Bank in every possible way and continues to strengthen the friction with the Palestinian population. Investing over 150 million NIS in new tourist settlements implies exploiting archaeology in the West Bank to promote settlements and adversely affect Palestinians. Instead of investing in archaeological and tourism sites within Israel, the Israeli government continues to prioritize the settler minority over millions of Israelis. Investing in new settlements under the guise of heritage in the West Bank is a divisive move that harms Palestinians, distances peace and the two-state solution, and also undermines Israel’s tourism potential.”