Learning Torah overlooking Shechem
Learning Torah overlooking ShechemB/ Sipzner

A young Jewish boy sits on a rock learning Talmud overlooking the Biblical city of Shechem, home of the final resting place of Yoseph Hatzadik, surrounded by thousands of Arabs in the terror filled city of Shechem (Nablus). Following our return to Israel after thousands of years, Jewish sites that define our history and identity are being destroyed and taken away from us once again.

This past Monday, the second day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, I had the privilege of visiting an ancient mizbeach (altar) on Mount Ebal in the Samaria region, which according to archaeologists is the altar that was built by Joshua upon entering Israel. The trip was organized by Israel’s Samaria Regional Council in an effort to highlight and stop the takeover and destruction of the site by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA has begun illegal construction of a neighborhood on the site of the altar which will erase this priceless marker of Jewish and Biblical history. Tragically, this area is blocked to Israelis most of the year. On this particular day in cooperation with the Regional Council, the army provided security to thousands of Israelis who came to pay homage to this holy ancient site.

After our victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, we returned to the lands of Judea and Samaria, the birthplace of our forefathers and land of the Bible on the back of two thousand years of exile. We now held a direct connection to our Jewish birthright, our past, and clear proof to the world that the land of Israel in its entirety belongs to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the government of the State of Israel did not realize the gravity of the situation nor did it prioritize these ancient sites when it first had the chance.

The Arabs do understand the significance of the Jewish sites. Since 1967, they have destroyed and damaged hundreds of sites in Judea and Samaria. This has been clearly documented by groups such as Guarding the Eternal, The Center for the Protection of Antiquities of Israel and The Shiloh Forum. These groups have provided clear proof that the Palestinian Authority is complicit in this destruction, and specifically encourages its people to damage Jewish sites.

A small sample of instances of Arab destruction in the last few years are:

-firebombing Joseph’s tomb,

-burning the ancient Jewish Kingdom of Shomron in Sebastia,

-destruction of Hasmonaean and Herodian palaces in Jericho,

-damaging the ancient pools of King Solomon,

-sealing up the caves where fighters in the Bar Kochba rebellion hid, and

-attacking the aforementioned ancient altar of Joshua on Mount Ebal - deliberately driven over by Palestinian farmers on tractors.

Just a few weeks ago, UNESCO classified Jericho as a Palestinian Arab heritage site. Jericho is the first town that Joshua and the Jewish people conquered in Israel after encircling it seven times. The ancient palaces of Herod and the Hasmonean dynasty are also located in Jericho. The rewriting of history by UNESCO is only possible because Israel did not invest in branding the site years ago. In the next few months, UNESCO in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority plans to vote on the Biblical sites of Mount Blessing and Mount Ebal to be recognized as Palestinian Arab heritage sites. Ridiculous as the claims are, the danger is clear.

While walking back to our car from Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal, I asked my wife to take a rock home because there is a strong possibility we will not be able to return to the site if G-d forbid the Arabs succeed in destroying it. While driving home I teared up thinking of the millions of Jews who were exiled from Israel thousands of years ago without knowledge of when they would return. For thousands of years they cried and prayed to return to Israel, chanting “Next year in Jerusalem”.

With G-d’s help and the Jewish people’s strength and resurgence we have been blessed in our generation to return to our homeland and walk in the footsteps of our forefathers. It is our responsibility to take advantage of the gift that God has given us and hold onto our holy ancient sites. Although many mistakes have been made and significant damage has occurred, now is the time for the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry to step up and invest in our heritage sites in Judea and Samaria. This effort will strengthen tourism and Israel’s true biblical identity in the international community.

Benjamin Sipzneris the Director for International Operations at Ad Kan and a former Advisor to the Minister of Aliyah and other Knesset Members. He was the Anglo Coordinator for the Religious Zionist Party in Israel’s last two elections. He is an Oleh from New York and completed his service as a lone soldier in the Nachal Brigade of the IDF. He can be found on Facebook, Linkedin and can be reached at [email protected].