Tour guides from the Kfar Etzion Field School this week discovered that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been digging at Beit Betzi, a Hasmonean fortress located between Bethlehem and the Herodion in "Area A." The Hasmonean revolt against the Greek empire is commemorated in the holiday of Hanukkah that begins Wednesday night.
Following the Oslo Accords the site, one of the only existing discoveries from the days of the Hasmoneans, was transfered to PA control.
News of PA digs at the site is particularly of concern given the organization's penchant for rewriting history. In 2011, amid renewed PA digs in Shechem, which the Bible records was bought by Jacob (Yaakov), Hamdan Taha, director of the PA's Department of Antiquities, said the dig would help in “writing or rewriting the history of Palestine.”
The Field School guides discovered the archaeological digging during a trip taken in advance of a walking tour planned for December 6 during Hanukkah. The Field School said Israeli groups have not traveled the area in roughly 20 years.
Given the lack of a mandate for rule and for IDF involvement in Area A, the School said "all that's left is to hope that the findings will be dealt with according to the great importance the site has to the Jewish people."
The Hasmoneans successfully forced the occupying Greek Empire out of Israel and established their own dynasty over 2,000 years ago. Their revolt, sparked by Greek decrees outlawing Judaism, lead to the purification and rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Regarding the site, representatives from the School explained that Judah Maccabee, a key leader in the uprising, died three years after the Temple was purified. Following his death "the Hellenist Jews together with the Greek army returned to rule over Judea and the gains accomplished by the Hasmonean revolt nearly fell completely. The recovery from this hard setback happened in the Judean desert between Bethlehem and Tekoa at the hill named Beit Betzi."
At the ruins remains of a magnificent fortress from the Hasmonean and Early Roman period were found. According to Dr. David Amit's research in the 1980s the site played a critical role in the Hasmonean struggle against Greek forces.
Manager of the Field School Yaron Rozental noted that while "national agreements left the ancient site in Area A out of Israeli control, there is no reason to lose the cultural tradition of our people from the days of the Macabbean revolt."
Rozental continued, saying "I call on the national authorities to do everything so that the information contained in the layers of the ancient site will stay a part of the cultural heritage of humanity."
Previously the Field School found what appears to be a castle from King David's time (roughly 3,000 years ago), the discovery of which authorities apparently have been trying to keep secret given its location in a PA controlled area.