Video: The archaeological battle over Tel Rumeida in Hebron

Cultural heritage has long been an innocuous pawn in conflict, from the Europe-wide pillage of art in the Second World War, to the more recent ruin of Palmya’s Roman temples in Syria.

A prominent example that is often overlooked is the role of archaeology in the Israel-Palestine crisis. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has limited executive power over major parts of the Palestinian territories and accordingly Palestinian cultural property has limited protection. Archaeologists have long-criticised Israeli excavations in the West Bank, which appear to systematically abuse the occupation force’s power and flout international law, whilst alienating Palestinians from their cultural heritage.

Tel Rumeida

In Hebron, Tel Rumeida is one of the most contested residential areas in the West Bank, including a Palestinian neighbourhood and an Israeli settlement within its boundaries. Since November, Tel Rumeida was declared a closed military zone, effectively ghettoizing the district.   

But Tel Rumeida’s problems long-precede the current spate of violence. An archaeological site, which dates back to the middle Bronze Age, has been the focus of a battle between settlers of the area, the Palestinian municipality of Hebron and numerous rights groups – notably Emek Shevah, an organization of archaeologists who focus on the role and misuse of archaeology in the Israel-Palestine crisis.  

Members of the Abu Haikal family are residents of Tel Rumeida and have been harassed by settlers and the Israeli military for decades. Portions of their land have been confiscated for alleged military reasons and are threatened by the expansion of the settlers and the archaeological site.


Dr. Ahmed Rjoub, a Palestinian archaeologist who works for the PA explained that “the conflict is all on history, and as such Tel Rumeida is a conflicted place, not just in terms of the physical space but a conflict over history and culture, heritage and identity. We have a lot of fears that the history, the archaeology and the remains of this site will be faked for the interests of Israeli heritage”.

“They [the Israeli Antiques Authority] actually found some tombs and ruins relating to the Roman and Islamic period and removed them,” he claimed. Rjoub said that such excavations, and the methods behind the excavations, violate standards enshrined in international law, and are “against the ethics of archaeology”.

Dr Rjoub and Yonathan Mizrachi, an Israeli archaeologist at Emek Shevah, both argue that the site is being appropriated by an Israeli state-funded body, to further the expansion of the Israeli settlers who have been working for decades to expel Palestinian residents from the area.


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