For the First Time in 35 Years: Expropriation Orders for Antiquity Sites in the West Bank
The Civil Administration has issued expropriation orders for the antiquity sites Deir Sam’an and Deir Kala’, northwest of Ramallah. Both sites are located on privately-owned Palestinian property and next to settlements. The expropriation orders state that the sites are being expropriated for the purpose of preservation and safeguarding archaeology
Last Friday, the Civil Administration issued expropriation orders for two archaeological sites in the West Bank which are on privately-owned Palestinian property adjacent to settlements. The site of Deir Sam’an is adjacent to the settlement Leshem and is owned by the residents of the village of a-Dik. The Deir Kala’ site is next to the settlement Peduel and belongs to residents from Deir Balut. Both sites feature impressively preserved archaeological findings from the Byzantine period.
The preservation of archaeological sites is not considered an essential need like a new road or a public structure, which makes this order unusual. The last, and only case, to the best of our knowledge, where land was expropriated for the purpose of preserving an archaeological site was in Susya in 1986, where at issue was the preservation of an ancient synagogue.
The decision to expropriate the land for the purpose of archaeological preservation is odd for two reasons:
1. In Deir Sam’an, the owner of the land has wanted to preserve and develop the site. The Civil Administration could have developed it together with the residents and for their benefit, however, it prefers to expropriate the land and exclude the local Palestinians from the site.
2. International law requires an occupational force to safeguard antiquities for the benefit of the local residents. In the West Bank, the local community is Palestinian, but it does not appear that this is the objective of these expropriations. The only ones likely to benefit are the settlers.
It seems plausible that the Civil Administration chose to expropriate the sites due to their proximity to the settlements. In fact, the sites are practically submerged into the settlements. The expropriation would potentially eliminate whatever minor Palestinian presence is left at the sites and in essence annex the sites to the settlements.
Emek Shaveh: In the past two years we have witnessed increasing pressure by settler organizations on the Civil Administration and the Staff Officer for Archaeology to increase the use of archaeological sites to remove Palestinians from Area C. While in Susya, the pretext for the expropriation was the existence of an ancient synagogue and therefore logical from the point of view of the authorities, the decision to expropriate two Byzantine era sites is unusual and attests to the growing trend of using archaeological sites as a pretext for barring Palestinians from sites in Area C.
Deir Sam’an: The site originated in the late Roman period, around 100 C.E., when it served as a farmhouse. The site remained in use during the Byzantine period and in the 6th century a large basilica was built in the center of the compound (on an area of 40 x 40 meters). Several of the church’s columns, carvings of crosses and impressive remains of walls remain intact. The remains of a mosaic are still visible on much of the compound’s floor and the site features a number of rock-cut reservoirs and agricultural facilities. Over the Byzantine layer, several structures were built during the Islamic period. Deir Sam’an was part of the agricultural settlement in the area during and after the Byzantine period.
In 2014, construction of a new neighborhood in the settlement of Leshem had begun. The neighborhood encompasses the archaeological site and at present, it is difficult even for the owners of the land, who live in the village of a-Dik, to access the site. In effect, the establishment of the settlement around the site has created a de facto expropriation of the site which is now being made official. The following video tells the story of Deir Sam’an.
Deir Kala’: The site was documented in the 19th century by British archaeologists. The site features an agricultural farm and a church dated to the Byzantine period. Walls several meters high were preserved with crosses carved into the rock, as well as remains of a tower that has been identified as a watchtower. The sites features a spectacular mosaic floor with geometric designs which is currently on display in the courtyard of the Good Samaritan Museum on the road to Jericho. The site is adjacent to the settlement of Peduel and the main access runs through the settlement. The only way to access the site not through the settlement is via a dirt road.
Photos of Deir Kala’ from the Antiquities Authority archives