Paris, 4 August 2022

In a letter to Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, the international guardian of cultural heritage, The Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr Shimon Samuels, relayed the “outrage of the Centre’s members concerning the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) ongoing plan to destroy an archaeological site, Tel Orma – a.k.a. Horvat Ormah or Khirbet el-Ormeh (in Arabic) – an ancient Hasmonean fortress from the era of the Maccabees.”

Samuels and the Israel Hayom daily have noted that “the Tel Orma archaeological site – including the ruins of the Biblical town of Aruma – are unfortunately located in the West Bank ‘Area B’, under PA civil jurisdiction. Over the past decade, this situation has reportedly meant being subject to an onslaught of irresponsible plunder, with the intent to supply local museums with ancient so-called ‘Palestinian' artifacts’.”

Israel Hayom points to “the top of the site, now surmounted by a huge Palestinian flag, as already flattened, which will cause irreparable damage to the ancient water cisterns and pulverizing other artifacts that might still be buried there. Two-thousand-year-old structures and walls have been demolished and the area used to build a new mosque.” Ultimately, the site is to become a ‘Palestinian’ national park.

The Centre stated, “If pillaging ancient Jewish artifacts is tantamount to identity theft, the devastation of the site is more similar to enacting a cultural scrapping policy. It is revealing what the PA, in its current mindset, would do to other heritage sites and artifacts.”

Samuels suggested, “If the PA destroys Tel Orma so carelessly, as a Jewish ancient site, how would they treat ancient Roman, Christian, Ottoman or other cultural sites? How would the PA peddle Bar-Kochba coins or manipulate the Dead Sea Scrolls – still on their official UNESCO wish list. What would be their fate if they ever got their hands on them?”

The letter reminded the Director-General that “there are over a thousand archaeological sites in the PA-controlled sectors of the West Bank. How can the Palestinian Authority be deterred from plundering or destroying heritage sites?”

As an Associate Partner, the Wiesenthal Centre urges UNESCO to publicly denounce this grave abuse.

“Madam Director-General, it is the responsibility of UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre to warn the Palestinian Authority accordingly,” concluded Samuels.