Press Release – High Court Ruling On Tel Shiloh: Developers Ordered to Provide Court with Basic Plan and to Represent all Historical Periods at the Site
At the court hearing concerning construction at the Tel Shiloh archaeological site in the West Bank on Wednesday, February 15 before Judges Rubinstein, Sohlberg and Barak-Erez, it was ruled that the developers of the site – the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council and Mishkan Shiloh Association – must present their plan to the court, showing the locations of the structures they intend to build at the site. In addition, they must present examples of other sites that demonstrate that construction for touristic purposes at Tel Shiloh is not a unique case. Since no site in Israel exists with such massive construction for commercial and touristic purposes, the developers will have a hard time finding examples. The extent of construction at ancient sites in the West Bank and its approval by the planning committee and SOA is daunting, as well as the fact that only involvement from the high court can stop it.
It in addition, it was ruled that Tel Shiloh must be accessible to visitors of all nations and religions, and that findings from all strata and historical periods must be represented. This seems like an obvious instruction, but clearly what might seem as obvious has been eroded in recent years in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This decision could, therefore, have an impact on activities at ancient sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
At the court hearing, the judges ruled that the construction of structures over an area of 11,000 square meters (events hall, conference hall, hotel and amphitheater, cowshed and more) is a deviation from the norm. The judges required the developers to mark the locations of the structures in the archaeological site on a map. When the settlers had difficulty presenting examples of construction plans of the same extent in other sites in the country, the judges asked for written examples within one month. We believe that the fact that such an extensive plan was approved by the planning institutions and the Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA), without requiring the developers to situate the requested structures on a map, testifies to a lack of professionalism and to the fact that the protection of ancient sites is not the main concern of the SOA and the planning institutions in the West Bank. The High Court has decided to hold another hearing once the developers tender a precise plan with the exact locations of the structures. The High Court does not tend to get involved in decisions of statutory planning entities, but during the hearing it seemed that even the judges could tell that the construction plan that the Binyamin Regional Council wishes to advance at Tel Shiloh is inflated and anomalous.
In addition, the court ruled that “the site is to be accessible to any visitor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other, and shall represent all the cultures historically present in the strata discovered at the site including the exhibition of finds from the various periods, which should be updated appropriately.”
Despite the fact that the ruling seems to state the obvious, the judges’ statement is the first time that the high court has dealt with the issue of the presentation of ancient sites to the public and accessibility to different sectors. We believe that the basic principles that the High Court set in this ruling are relevant to ancient sites in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel. In doing so, the high court may be extending the issue to other ancient sites such as Susya, the City of David and others. The judges’ ruling is based on the assumption that the presentation of ancient sites to the public reflects all the strata unearthed, but our experience shows there are many cases where a certain narrative overshadows the actual findings. In this sense, Tel Shiloh is only one example of many, and they are only increasing in number.
To read the hearing (Hebrew):
For more information about the petition and background on Tel Shiloh see: Layers of illegality at the Tel Shiloh archaeological site – High Court hearing