[Early in March 2021], a bus filled with veteran Israeli generals from the Bithonistim, a grassroots national security organization, slowly made its way up the slopes of Mt. Ebal in Northern Samaria to visit a biblical-era site that was severely damaged by a Palestinian Authority contractor in late January.
They came to draw the public’s attention to the strategic implications of the war the Palestinians are waging against Jewish history.
The site was excavated between 1980 and 1989 by the late Professor Adam Zertal, who identified it as Joshua’s Altar as described in the Books of Deuteronomy, (27; 1-9) and Joshua (8; 30-35). The animal remains at the site contained thousands of burnt bones of year-old male, exclusively kosher, animals.
Although initially controversial, Zertal’s general finding that the site is around 3,300 years old and is a Jewish historical site, where sacrifices were carried out in keeping with biblical guidelines, has become widely accepted—although many continue to dispute the specific identification with Joshua.
In late January, the Palestinian Authority (PA) posted a video on its website of 60 meters of the ancient wall surrounding the altar being destroyed to pave a road connecting the Palestinian village of Asira ash-Shamaliya to Nablus.
Zertal was a fiercely secular son of hardcore socialists. Yet, he explained in a 2013 lecture, his scientific work compelled him to accept that the biblical narrative “from Deuteronomy through the Books of Kings was historically accurate.”
“There are people who refuse to acknowledge that the damage done here was deliberate,” Major General Gershon Hacohen explained to Newsweek. “That since it was the surrounding wall—rather than the altar itself—that was destroyed, the altar wasn’t harmed….“They also say the Palestinians weren’t trying to damage the site—they just needed stones for their road. But look at this place,” he said and waved his hand across the landscape.
The slopes of Mt. Ebal are strewn with loose rocks. “If they needed rocks for the road, all the Palestinians had to do was bring up a truck and take as many as they needed. Instead, they brought a bulldozer all the way up here and deliberately destroyed 60 meters of a 3,250-year-old wall.”
As if to prove Hacohen’s point, this week, a group of Palestinians was filmed barbecuing on the altar itself.
Just across the valley from Mt. Ebal is Tel Samaria, which contains the remains of the city of Samaria—the capital built by King Omri of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where both Omri and King Ahab ruled.
The PA is also destroying the nearby archaeological site of Tel Aroma, a center of Jewish settlement for more than a millennium.
Since the PLO founded the PA in 1994 in the framework of its peace process with Israel, destroying and appropriating Jewish historical sites—with the enthusiastic support of international organizations like UNESCO—has been a constant effort.
Immediately after Israel transferred control over the city of Jericho to the PA in 1994, then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat directed the destruction of the ancient Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho.
But the central focus of its destructive activities has been the Temple Mount.
In 1999, the PA carried out a massive renovation project to transform ancient underground Temple Mount chambers into a new mosque, removing 9,000 tons of antiquities and debris from the complex and dumping them around Jerusalem. Alarmed archaeologists collected the debris and transferred it to Mt. Scopus, where the Temple Mount Sifting Project was inaugurated. Over the next 20 years, thousands of artifacts were discovered by volunteers who sifted through the garbage to salvage them.
UNESCO, the UN agency charged with preserving international heritage sites, has supported the Palestinian efforts, denied the Jewish ties to the Temple Mount—Judaism’s most sacred site—and declared the Cave of Machpela in Hebron—where the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are buried—an Islamic heritage site, along with Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.