Illustration of the Hasmonean Winter Palace

A dramatic plan is gaining traction these days led by the Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as Minister of Settlement Affairs within the Ministry of Defense. As part of the program, millions of shekels will be invested in the site of the Hasmonean palaces near Jericho in order to bring tourists to the place on a regular basis.

The site of the Hasmonean palaces is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria, and in Israel in general. Among other things, the excavations carried out at the site revealed winter palaces that belonged to the Hasmonean and Herodian kings, swimming pools, and a bath, as well as ancient tombs.

Along with the exciting discoveries, the palace suffered from massive damage from antiquities robbers and illegal Palestinian takeover attempts. In 2019, bones were discovered that were removed from the graves, mutilated, and scattered throughout the site. The bones were brought for burial in the cemetery in Kfar Adumim by members of the Civil Administration and the Benjamin Regional Council. A few months ago it was revealed that Palestinians had built luxurious villas on part of the site.

The biggest challenge on the site is its location. Although it is located in Area C, which makes it possible to excavate and restore it, the access road to it goes through Area A, under full civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority. For this reason, entry to the place is only possible three times a year, under Israeli military security.

The Settlement Directorate, established by Minister Smotrich, is working to completely change the way the site operates today. In a few weeks, the site will be opened 12 times a year, each time for a few days, with military security in place. At the same time, the site will be transferred from the management of the Civil Administration and the Nature and Parks Authority to the operation of the Benjamin Council.

In the future, massive development will begin on the site, investing sums estimated at tens of millions of shekels. The plan is to build a bridge that will cross the existing creek on the spot, and connect areas C, under full Israeli control, while bypassing the existing road located in area A. In addition, the settlement directorate is planning to build a visitor center on the spot. 

The purpose of the plan is to protect the important archaeological site while preserving the Jewish heritage, and also to prevent a Palestinian takeover of the land with massive destruction of the site, as has already partly happened. Palestinians often try and cover up Jewish connections to the land.

The Jordanian-built Silwan neighborhood in east Jerusalem was built mostly on top of an ancient part of the Mount of Olives, the oldest active cemetery in the world with remains that date back to the time of King David. Palestinians have also built on top of the area where the seat of the ancient Kingdom of Israel was in Samaria, while also applying to UNESCO to name sites like the Western Wall, a Palestinian heritage site. 

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