Negev: World Heritage Site Wrecked, Bedouins Suspected

A World Heritage Site in the Negev was attacked and seriously damaged Monday. Police suspect Bedouin involvement.

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Maayana Miskin, | updated: 18:10

A view of the historic Avdat site
A view of the historic Avdat site
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Avdat National Park, which has been declared a UN World Heritage Site, was attacked overnight and severely damaged, staff found Monday. Hundreds of valuable archaeological artifacts thought to be approximately 2,000 years old were demolished or seriously damaged. The site of the ancient Nabatean church was heavily damaged as well. Pillars were smashed, as was the alter, and the walls covered in graffiti.

The vandals wreaked havoc elsewhere as well. The fence around a nearby vineyard was destroyed and the water system was broken, leaving water spraying over the fields for hours overnight. The vandals also drove over newly planted vines, destroying approximately seven dunams (roughly 1.7 acres) of plants completely.

The water pipe leading to Har Harif was damaged, and several tourists in the area reported that their cars had been vandalized.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident. Investigators suspect that the attack may have been carried out by members of nearby Bedouin tribes angered by the recent demolition of illegally built Bedouin-owned structures.

Twenty-three illegal Bedouin structures were destroyed Sunday.

Farmer: Everyone Knows Who Did This
Eran Raz, the owner of the vandalized vineyard, said Monday that he was certain Bedouins were behind the destruction. “The people who did this are Bedouins who live two minutes from Avdat. Everyone knows who they are,” he said.

Raz's farm has been damaged by Bedouins on several occasions in the past. He explained that his certainty that Bedouins were behind the latest act of vandalism stems from the fact that the attack was similar to past Bedouin attacks, and to the fact that “It happens right after the law is enforced against them.”

Bedouins, Jews Swap Accusations of Land Theft
An estimated 40 percent of the Bedouin living in the Negev – approximately 63,000 people – lives in unauthorized villages built illegally on state land. The government has agreed to recognize some such villages and to provide them with municipal services, while others are slated for demolition.

Many Bedouin living in the Negev have accused the government of stealing their land, and have threatened violent reprisals for the demolition of illegal buildings. The Negev rightfully belongs to the Bedouin, and therefore Bedouin should not need building permits, they said.

Many Jews in the Negev, on the other hand, have accused Bedouin of building illegal towns as part of a coordinated effort to take over state land.