'Incomprehensible disgrace'
Jericho Arabs loot ancient tombs and desecrate graves

In Jericho area, Second Temple era burial tomb discovered exposed with graves looted and human remains scattered throughout area.

Mordechai Sones ,

Looted Catacombs near Jericho
Looted Catacombs near Jericho
Yedidya Neeman

The ancient burial caves on the outskirts of Jericho date back to the Second Temple era, and are apparently part of the extensive burial grounds of the Hasmonean palace uncovered at the site. The cave was recently exposed in the course of landscaping work carried out by local Arab farmers, who bulldozed the site to prepare the ground for agricultural work.

Professor Rachel Hachlili of Haifa University's Zinman Institute of Archaeology, who studied this region, identified these caves as the largest Second Temple-era burial ground in Israel.

Hikers visiting the site over the weekend were appalled by what they found: Human remains strewn everywhere on freshly-tilled ground, catacombs thoroughly ransacked and looted, and sarcophagi (burial caskets) that had been resting in the caves for over 2,500 years had disappeared.

Antiquities theft and destruction of archaeological treasures is rampant – in fact, it has become nearly commonplace - throughout Judea and Samaria. In this case, ancient catacombs were wiped out by illegal quarrying despite the constant stream of alerts, warnings, and documentation the Regavim movement sent to the Regional Commander for Antiquities in the Civil Administration, the body responsible for law enforcement in the area.

Regavim Operations Director Yakhin Zik said: "The loss of our archaeological record and the ongoing failure to protect and preserve our heritage is an incomprehensible disgrace. The government must approve additional manpower and create standards that will ensure the preservation of antiquities and the severe punishment of looters."

Moshe Gutman, of the "Preserving the Eternal" initiative, adds: "The time has come for those who make declarations about their commitment to our national legacy to open their eyes to the ISIS-style destruction that's happening all around us. I call upon the Prime Minister to take responsibility. It's inconceivable that a civilized country tolerates the plunder and devastation of word cultural heritage sites."

Scattered Hasmonean-era remains in catacomb near Jericho
Yedidya Neeman