Emek Shaveh’s Guide to Tel Rumeida
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Tel Rumeida is a neighborhood in the city of Hebron built on top of and around an archaeological mound referred to as “Tel Hebron״ by Israelis and ״Tel Rumeida״ by Palestinians. In 2018, sections of the site were declared an archaeological park and opened to the public. The park is operated by the Staff Officer for Parks in the Civil Administration under the auspices of the Nature and Parks Authority. Tel Rumeida is identified with the emergence of the city of Hebron, approximately 4,000 years ago. The mound rises to an altitude of 936 meters above sea level and the view from the top takes in the entire city.
Tel Rumeida is populated mostly by Palestinians with a minority of Israeli settlers. Much of the archaeological mound is situated beneath an agricultural plot owned by a Palestinian family, therefore archaeological excavations have been carried out only at the margins of the site.
The political and religious tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims in Tel Rumeida are perhaps the most acute in the West Bank. The manner in which the site is curated and its heritage is presented to the public is, no doubt, influenced by this state of affairs and in turn serves to escalate it. Enriching the discourse about the historical narrative of the site is vital to alleviating tensions in Hebron and to turning ancient sites from contested spaces to opportunities for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians on the historical, religious and political significance of the city.
Emek Shaveh, offers this guide as an aid to the visitor who wishes to learn about the city from its beginnings to the present day. The information in the guide is based on archaeological and historical research, but we acknowledge the difficulty often inherent in the process of analyzing the finds and assessing various interpretations.
Timeline and Events
- Early Bronze Age 3 (2200-2000 BCE) – first evidence of a city.
- Middle Bronze Age (1800–1500 BCE) – establishment of a system of fortifications (known as the Cyclopean Wall) that were in use until the end of the Iron Age (586 BCE).
- Iron Age (1000-538 BCE) – Evidence of renovations of the fortification system, demonstrating the site was continuously inhabited.
- Hellenistic Period (332-167 BCE) – Edomites settle in the area of Mount Hebron.
- 125 BCE – Yohanan Horkanus I conquers Edom, including Hebron.
- The Herodian Period (37–4 BCE) – Archaeologists assume that Herod built a magnificent structure in the style of a basilica over the Cave of the Patriarchs.
- The Late Roman Period (132–332 CE) – The area of the ancient mound is abandoned and becomes agricultural land. The ancient settlement shifts to the area of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the area currently known as the Old City of Hebron.
- The Byzantine Period (332-638 CE) – A Christian church and a monastery are built in Hebron and in its environs. Tel Rumeida is at the fringes of the populated area of the city.
- The Islamic Period (638-1099 CE) – Many of the religious structures in Hebron are converted into mosques. The city continues to develop with the Tomb of the Patriarchs as its center. Tel Rumeida remains unpopulated.
- The Crusader Period (1099-1291 CE) – The religious structures are reverted back to churches. The Dir-el-Arba’in monastery is built in the area of Tel Rumeida.
- The Mamluk Period (1291-1516) – Massive resources are invested in developing the Old City of Hebron into the city as we know it today.
- The 16th Century – Spanish Jews settle in the city.
- 1929 – Evacuation of the Jewish community in the wake of the 1929 riots (“Tarpat” – the Jewish year of 5689) after sixty-eight Jews are murdered.
- 1964-1966 – The first archaeological excavation is carried out in Tel Rumeida, headed by Phillip Hammond of Princeton University.
- 1967 – The conquest of Hebron by Israel in the Six Day War.
- 1968 – The start of the modern Jewish settlement in Hebron when settlers rented out the Park Hotel for the first day of the Passover holiday and refused to leave. A month later they relocated to live in an abandoned administration building.
- 1979 – Establishment of the Beit Hadassah settlement.
- 1983 – Establishment of the Admot Yishai settlement on top of Tel Rumeida mound.
- 1984-1986 – The first excavation of Tel Rumeida following the occupation of Hebron by Israel. The excavation is carried out under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, the Staff Officer for Archaeology of the Civil Administration and the Israel Exploration Society, headed by Avi Ofer.
- February 25, 1994 – Baruch Goldstein murders 29 Moslems praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In the wake of the massacre, Al-Shuhada Street, which serves as the central marketplace of the city, is closed to vehicular traffic. The wholesale vegetable market is closed entirely.
- 1997 – As part of the Hebron Agreement, the city of Hebron is divided into two areas: an area under Palestinian control (H1 – 80% of the city) and an area under Israeli control (H2 – 20% of the city). The Tel Rumeida neighborhood is located on the edge of H2.
- 1998 – The third excavation of Tel Rumeida is carried out under the auspices of the Staff Officer for Archaeology, headed by Yuval Peleg.
- 1999 – The fourth excavation of Tel Rumeida is carried out as part of the preparations for building permanent structures in the Admot Yishai settlement, under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority, headed by Emanuel Eisenberg.
- 2000 – With the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Al-Shuhada Street and the nearby streets are declared a sterile area. Palestinians are prohibited from entering the area.
- 2007 – The incursion of settlers to Beit Hashalom. Initially, they were evicted, but in 2014, they received permission from the High Court of Justice to return to the building.
- 2014 – The most recent excavation of Tel Rumeida under the auspices of Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority, headed by David Ben-Shlomo.
- 2017 – An administration for municipal services in the Jewish settlement of Hebron is established, and is recognized as a local authority.
- 2018 – Declaration of Tel Rumeida as an archaeological park under the administration of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
How to get to Tel Rumeida
To reach Tel Rumeida, take highway 60 – which traverses the West Bank south to north – to the settlement of Kiryat Arba. From Kiryat Arba, follow the signs to Hebron. Once you pass through the gate from Kiryat Arba into Hebron, you will, no doubt, encounter a different world. There is very little traffic in these streets, which are off-limits to Palestinian cars. There will be even less traffic once you enter Al-Shuhada Street – formerly the lively Hebron market – which was left abandoned after Palestinian presence was prohibited in 1994, in the wake of the murder of 29 Muslims who were praying inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein (a settler from Hebron).
In contrast, the presence of Israeli settlers cannot be ignored. In an effort to create an alternative reality: along the road, the settlers have placed signposts directing people to Jewish sites in the area. Israeli flags are placed in front of settler homes. On your way, you will pass signs for a café, nursery schools, kindergartens and a visitors’ center. Yet, most of the people you will meet will be Israeli soldiers who are manning the roadblocks and the military gates preventing entry to Palestinians.
Every visitor to the national park Tel Rumeida is assigned a security guard, in accordance with the requirements of the Nature and Parks Authority.
Tel Rumeida (Tel Hebron): Main Landmarks
Description of the Site
The Tel Rumeida archaeological park is located in an area referred to as plots 52-53. Most of the archaeological excavations took place there because the plots were identified as properties owned by Jews prior to the 1929 riots. In 1948, Hebron, along with the rest of the West Bank was under Jordanian jurisdiction. According to the Jordanian law, assets which were Jewish owned prior to Jordanian rule were considered “absentee properties” and handed over to the State. Following the occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967, these properties were transferred to the Civil Administration, the army unit responsible for implementing the civilian policy within the West Bank in coordination and cooperation with officials from defense and government offices. According to military law, so long as these assets are not returned to their original owners, the ruling power can develop them according to their needs. However, these plots are situated at the fringes of the archaeological site, while the central area of the mound is located on plots that are privately owned by a Palestinian family who use it for agricultural purposes. No archaeological excavations were ever conducted at the center of the site.
There are additional remains near the settlers’ homes in the Admot Yishai complex which were discovered in the course of excavations carried out prior to the construction of the residences. In addition, the area includes the remains of the Crusader monastery, Dir al-Arba’in, which became a mosque and currently serves as a synagogue and an army outpost. A spring called Ma’ayan Avraham/ Ein Jedida, is located on the slope of the site.
Area 53B: Fortifications of the City
This area contains the remains of a 60 meter wall built of large unhewn stones, which was part of the fortifications of the city during the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1500 BCE). The wall was built in a manner typical of walls at other sites such as Shiloh and the City of David, which have been dated to this period.
The size of the stones forming the wall, is seen by some as proof of the description in the Bible, according to which Joshua conquered the city from “giants” who lived in the area (Numbers 13:22). Thus, the wall has been termed the “Cyclopean Wall.”
The most interesting fact about the wall is the length of time that it was in use; from the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1500 BCE) until the end of the Iron Age (538 BCE) – a continual period of approximately 1300 years without a layer of destruction. Over the years the wall was widened and renovated. During the Iron Age 2b-c (the 8th through the 7th centuries BCE) a tower and a glacis were added. At the end of the Iron Age (the beginning of the 6th century BCE), an additional wall was built at a distance of about nine meters from the original city wall and the area between the two walls was filled in and leveled. We do not know why the second wall was built. Perhaps it was intended to set out another line of defense or to create an infrastructure for the road that ascended to the walls of the upper city.
The remains of the wall reveal a picture that differs from the description of Hebron in the Bible. While the Book of Joshua (10:36-37) tells a story of how the city was destroyed, the discovery of the wall without a layer of destruction points to cultural continuity between the Middle Bronze Age (identified also as the Canaanite Period – before the settlement of the Israelites) and the Iron Age (identified as the period in which the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan and, theoretically, destroyed Canaanite Hebron). Although the mound was excavated by a number of expeditions over many seasons, any theories regarding the character of Hebron during this period are mere conjecture.
Area 53A: The Residential and Industrial Areas from the Hellenistic Era (2nd century BCE) until the Late Roman Period (4th century CE)
Situated at the northern end of the archaeological park, this area includes remains from a residential neighborhood and an industrial area that was functional from the Hellenistic period through to late Roman times.
The Stepped Street
The stepped street was originally built in the 1st century BCE. Structures in poor conservation condition were uncovered on either side of the street and are thought to have been dwellings from the lower section of the ancient city. The stepped street terminates at a water reservoir which was interpreted as a ritual bath [mikveh] (details follow) dated to the same period as the first paving of the road.
The archaeologists excavating the mound presume this road descended from the gate of the upper city through the lower city towards the industrial area. However, this theory is open to debate since the gate of the upper city has not been discovered, and what makes it even less plausible is the fact that the street was constructed at the same time as the water reservoir/ritual bath meaning that it is unlikely that it functioned as a main thoroughfare. A main road leading to a city gate would hardly end at a water reservoir. Perhaps the desire to link archaeology to historical texts such as the Book of Maccabees or texts by the First Century CE Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius, which emphasize the importance of Hebron in that period have led to hasty or at the very least unlikely conclusions.
Water Reservoirs/Ritual Baths/Industrial Installations
As discussed, the stepped street terminates at a plaster coated water reservoir identified by those excavating the site as a ritual bath. To the east of the water reservoir an additional reservoir was also identified as a ritual bath. The western reservoir was built after the eastern reservoir was no longer in use. Both reservoirs have a similar structure: a large well-plastered reservoir carved into the bedrock with a staircase divided into three sections. Each reservoir features an internal pool.
The water reservoirs were construed as ritual baths, in accordance with the archaeologists’ assumption that plastered reservoirs featuring staircases in Judea and the south Hebron Hills between the Hasmonean period (the 2nd century BCE) and the late Roman period (4th century CE), must be ritual baths.
Based on this assumption and on the prevalence of ritual baths in the South Hebron Hills, they concluded that these two reservoirs served in their early stages as ritual baths but were later used as water reservoirs. According to this view, the separate staircases were intended to prevent the transmission of impurity by those descending into the bath to those ascending, after purifying themselves. It is important to remember that the use of ritual baths was also common among the Edomites, and that therefore, it is difficult to definitively determine the identity of the population who used these facilities.
Questions should be raised regarding the conclusion that the structures served as ritual baths. The only site from that period in which similar water reservoirs were found and were interpreted by some as having been ritual baths, is Qumran, identified as the place of residence of the Essene cult, who observed particularly strict purification customs. The facilities in Qumran also feature a staircase divided into three sections. However, Yitzchak Magen and Yuval Peleg, who excavated Qumran, are of the opinion that the reservoirs they found did not serve as ritual baths but rather were constructed as part of the nearby industrial area, which included a pottery workshop, in which it was vital to have a continuous water supply. The fact that the reservoirs in Tel Rumeida were also located in proximity to an industrial area which included a pottery workshop (see below), means it is plausible these too had served for industrial purposes rather than for ritual purification.
To the north of the stepped street and the reservoirs/ritual baths, a pottery workshop was discovered – it is one of the three facilities in the industrial area of Tel Rumeida/Hebron. The workshop included an extensive collection of installations, including an oven, areas for the preparation and drying of vessels, pools, etc. The workshop was built in the early Roman period (1st century BCE to the 1st century CE).
Wine Presses and an Olive Press
In the western section of the site the remains of two wine presses and an olive press also dated to the early Roman period were excavated. Since they are situated along the same axis, it is presumed that they were built and in use during the same period.
The Admot Yishai Settlement
The Admot Yishai settlement complex was established in 1984 on land purchased by Jews in the 19th century. At first, the settlers lived in caravans. Following the murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan in an attack in 1998, the Israeli government approved the construction of permanent buildings in the complex. In 1999, the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out salvage excavations prior to construction. To prevent damage to the finds discovered during the excavation, it was decided that the residences would be built on columns. Some of the families moved into the permanent structures, but the caravans remained in place and are still used as residences.
Opposite the permanent buildings of the Admot Yishai complex is the house of the Abu ‘Ayesha family. All of the home’s windows and doors are covered with iron mesh to protect it against the objects settlers regularly throw at the house. The army calls the house the “cage house.”
In excavations carried out on Admot Yishai, a section of the city walls dating from the Early Bronze Age (2200-2000 BCE) and the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1500 BCE) was revealed. The wall from the Early Bronze Age was built as a system of box-shaped segments, contributing to its stability. A number of residential buildings were discovered on the inside of the wall with their rear supported by the wall. The city delineated by this wall existed for a short period of time as there is abundant evidence of a fire that destroyed it. Later, a new wall was built on top with a wide staircase consisting of 37 stairs built along the outer face of the wall. Although the city gate has not been discovered, those who excavated the site assume that the stairs were part of the entryway into the city. On the inside of the wall an embankment had formed along its length and residential structures typical of the period were built on top of it.
In the Middle Bronze Age (approximately 1800 BCE) a new wall was built along a different route from that of the wall from the Early Bronze Age. A structure that was erected on the top of the wall during the Hellenistic period (323-63 BCE) suggests that during this period the wall was no longer in use.
Archaeologists assume that during the Bronze Age, Hebron was settled by a local Canaanite population. Similarly, the remains from the Hellenistic period do not provide evidence of a Jewish presence in Hebron in ancient times. Yet, the signs placed by the settlers frame the finds as evidence of the exclusive historical ties of the Jewish people to Hebron. For example, the explanatory signs refer to the period associated with the Patriarch Abraham. However, although, the site was inhabited during the period in Biblical chronology associated with the figure of Abraham, there is no archaeological evidence that provides proof of the veracity of the biblical stories regarding Abraham’s presence in the city.
Dir al Arba’in/The Tomb of Ruth and Yishai
At the summit of the road in the Admot Yishai complex is a path that winds around an army outpost and up to an ancient partially destroyed structure at the top of the hill. A visit to the site may require presenting an identity card to the soldier guarding the position in front of the structure.
This ancient structure is called Dir al-Arba’in. Possibly, the source of the name is a tradition that this is the burial place of forty Muslim warriors, or it may be that this is a rendition of the name Kiryat Arba. The structure is identified as part of a Crusaders’ era monastery and represents the last stage of settlement in the area of the mound prior to the modern era. Archaeologists associate the monastery with a number of agricultural installations found in various parts of the mound. In a survey of the area, an image of a cross was found on the lintel of the door. After Hebron was conquered by the Muslims, the monastery was turned into a mosque.
Since the Middle Ages, there has been a tradition of identifying the spot as the burial place of Yishai, the father of King David, even though the Bible states that Yishai lived in Bethlehem. In the 19th century, an additional tradition evolved according to which it is also the burial place of Ruth the Moabite, Yishai’s grandmother.
In the wake of the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, the army declared the area a closed military zone. In recent years, settlers in Hebron have taken advantage of the fact that the site is closed to establish a synagogue there, and on the Shavuot holiday they congregate at the site to read the Book of Ruth.
Beit Hadassah is located on the slope of the road that leads to Tel Rumeida. It was built in 1893 by Rabbi Haim Rahamim Yosef Franco (Haharif) and served as a medical clinic where both Jews and Arabs were treated. In 1912, a second floor was built, which served as a clinic of the Hadassah organization, thanks to contributions from the Jewish communities of India and Baghdad. In 1929, the director of the clinic and his family were murdered in the riots. The building was abandoned together with the entire Jewish settlement, when the Jewish population was evacuated from Hebron on the orders of the Mandatory Government. Subsequently the building became a girls’ school.
In 1979, after the signing of the peace accords with Egypt, which stipulated that Israel would return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and consider granting autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank, a number of settlers holed themselves inside the building with their children in protest. The Israeli government decided to allow them to remain in the building but ordered the army to prevent additional people from entering and to prohibit those who left from returning. The women and children, therefore, remained in the building for a year. In May 1980, six Israelis who arrived at the entrance to the building to support the women were murdered by terrorists. In the wake of the attack, the government decided to officially allow the people to reside in the building. Today, around 20 families live in the building and it has a sports grounds and a playground designated exclusively for the children of the settlers. The lower level of the building houses a visitors’ center called “Touching Eternity,” established with the support of the Council for the Preservation of Heritage Sites in Israel. Inside, is an exhibition and a multimedia display about the history of the Jewish people in Hebron.
Ma’ayan Avraham [Abraham’s Spring]/Ein Jedida [the New Spring]/Ein Habra [Hebron Spring]
Located near Beit Hadassah, towards Tel Rumeida, in ancient times, the spring served as the main source of water for Hebron. At present, access to the spring is through an underground cave, but archaeologists assume that the spring once had an elevated source. In the course of excavations carried out between 1984-1986, the spring and its environs were surveyed, and a large wall was found, which may have been used to conceal a water system. In addition, a large layer of collapse was discovered which led the archaeologist excavating the site to conclude that during the Middle Bronze Age the spring was housed within a dome.
The spring was once used by both the Palestinian residents of Hebron, who call it Ein Jedida or Ein Habra, as well as the settlers in Hebron, who call it Ma’ayan Avraham. But following many violent incidents at the spring, in recent years an army position has been placed there in order to maintain security. In practice, the army’s presence effectively denies Palestinians access to the spring.
The political reality of Hebron makes any involvement with the city – including the writing of this guide – complex and sensitive. As is evident from wandering around the ancient remains currently presented to the public, this is a site with a paucity of finds, and the excavations conducted exposed only areas that were found outside the walls of the ancient city. The archaeological remains that are attributed to the Second Temple period (the Early Roman Era), exposed an ancient industrial zone located on the edge of the city. It may be assumed that were it not for pressure and political interests, the Tel Hebron Archaeological Park would not have merited substantial investment, nor would it have been opened to the public. More than anything, the existence of this archaeological park points to the use of archaeology to entrench Israeli control in the West Bank, particularly in Hebron.
This guide does not seek to refute the conclusions of those who excavated the site, but it does seek to raise questions regarding the presentation of the site to the public, and the interests served thereby.
 Ben Shlomo, D., 2016. New Excavations in Tel Hebron, Kadmoniyot : A Journal for the Study of the Land of Israel and Bible Lands, 152:101-108 [Hebrew].
 Eisenberg, E., 2011, Fortifications of Hebron in the Bronze Age, 30 Land of Israel: Studies in Knowledge of the Land of Israel and its Antiquities 31-40 [Hebrew].
 Ben Shlomo, D. Eisenberg, E., 2017. The Remains in Area 53A: Stratigraphy and Architecture. In Ben Shlomo D., Eisenberg, E. (eds.) 2017. The Tel Hevron 2014 Excavations: Final Report: 137-152. Ariel: Ariel Univ. Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series No. 1.
 Reich, R. Ritual Baths in the Period of the Second Temple and in the Period of the Mishna and the Talmud: 251-52, Jerusalem, Yad Yitzchak Ben Zvi [Hebrew].
 Ben-Shlomo, D., 2017. The Ritual Baths (Miqwa’ot) at Tel Hevron, in Ben-Shlomo, D. Eisenberg, E. (eds.) 2017, The Tel Hevron 2014 Excavations, supra note 4, 251-262. Ariel: Ariel Univ. Institute of Archaeology Monograph Series No. 1.
 Magen, I., Peleg, Y., 2007. The Qumran Excavations 1992-2004: Preliminary Report, in Magen Y. (ed.) Judea and Samaria Researches and Discoveries JSP 6:353-426. Jerusalem Staff Officer of Archaeology – Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.
 Eisenberg, E., 2016. Tel Hevron: The Excavations in 1999, 152 Kadmoniyot: Journal of Study of the Land of Israel and the Bible Lands 92-100 [Hebrew].
 Batz, S., 2002, Hebron, Dir al-Arba’in, Archaeological News 114:144. [Hebrew]
 Ofer, A., 1984, Tel Rumeida, Archaeological News, vol. 85, 43.