Hebron Archaeology Discovered While Building Wheelchair Ramp

2,000-year-old unused stone for Machpela complex discovered.

17.8.22, 14:07
A controversy has arisen about the future of archeological artifacts discovered while creating a handicapped access path outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. The IDF Civil Administration, which is overseeing the project stated the ancient archeological ruins should be filled in with dirt. Dr. Noam Arnon, a spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron wants the walkway relocated.
"There is no disputing the need for accessibility, but covering the excavation area constitutes unnecessary damage to a place of value to science, culture, archaeology and tourism," Dr. Arnon wrote in an appeal to Minister of Culture and Sports Hili Tropper.
For years Hebron residents have been pushing for handicapped access to the ancient Tomb of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs site. Work finally commenced in May, but the discovery of ruins dating back to the time of the Second Temple era have complicated the project.

Dr. Arnon, an expert in Hebron’s history told Israel HaYom news that proceeding with the wheelchair construction in its current location would be “a colossal mistake. We have an alternative plan for accessibility, a short and inexpensive route that solves the problem. We don't need to cover everything and damage our history.”

The Jewish community of Hebron spent years in court to create a solution for those visitors unable to climb the steep steps into the ancient memorial for the Biblical matriarchs and patriarchs.
The plan for handicapped access plan includes an elevator and ramp and will be accessible to Jews, Muslims and visitors of all faiths. The Palestinian Authority repeatedly challenged the project on the grounds that they should have sole control over the site which they view as strictly Islamic in nature. Construction began in May 2022.

After the ruins were unearthed, an excavation team was sent in led by Haim Skolnik. The initial findings were from relatively late periods, such as the Ottoman era. As the excavation progressed, more and more earlier findings were discovered. A stone that was hewn for the walls of the Cave of Machpela complex 2,000 years ago was discovered. The stone was never used in the building and cast aside.

Other discoveries include the foundations of a building from the Second Temple period, a public building from the times of the Mishna and the Talmud, and a Crusader fortification.

The IDF Civil Administration which is overseeing the construction on behalf of the Ministry of Defense wants to cover the excavations with dirt and continue to build the new access path. They argue their license is only to create handicapped access and not conduct archeological research.

The Civil Administration said in a statement that "upon completing the investigation, the professional recommendation was to cover the archaeological finds in a way that would preserve them intact and protect them, in a way that would allow for the site to be developed in the future and have it open to the general public. The Civil Administration considered it paramount to preserve archaeological artifacts and religious-historic sites, as it continues to work toward making the Cave of the Patriarchs more accessible."
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