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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Israel is presenting a perversion of history in Hebron

The use of archaeological fallacies to seal Palestinian lands shows Tel Aviv's immorality

The new Israeli archaeological park in the middle of the Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighbourhood of Hebron. Heidi Levine / The National
The new Israeli archaeological park in the middle of the Palestinian Tel Rumeida neighbourhood of Hebron. Heidi Levine / The National

“Hebron is the eternal city for the people of Israel, the eternal people.” With those words, Israel’s deputy defence minister, Eli Ben-Dahan, inaugurated a new archaeological tourist park in Hebron, where ancient Jewish ritual baths are said to have stood. Behind Mr Ben-Dahan’s comments is an insidious attempt to use the site – and archaeology more broadly – to claim legitimacy for the West Bank’s most militant Jewish settlers.

In actuality, Hebron’s history is not purely Jewish. Like much of the Levant, the city, which contains the purported tomb of Ibrahim, or Abraham, Patriarch in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, has played host to a diverse range of communities. But Israel has occupied the area since 1967, drawing extremist Jewish settlers who are hugely outnumbered by their Palestinian neighbours, but protected by one of the world’s strongest and most ruthless armies.

The opening of a Jewish archaeological site, designed to draw thousands of tourists, is a sinister attempt to rewrite history to serve Israel’s narrative and legitimise the theft of Palestinian land.

Some 30 kilometres from Jerusalem, Hebron is a microcosm of the brutal Israeli occupation. Although 230,000 Palestinians live in the city, some 900 Israeli settlers and the soldiers that guard them have turned its once bustling centre into a ghost town and the renamed King David Street slices the city in half.

Meanwhile, as settlers with licences to carry rifles wander around freely, protected by fortified checkpoints and watchtowers, Palestinians are subjected to the violent and discriminatory realities of daily oppression. While Israelis enjoy subsidised water, transport and electricity, Palestinians are routinely denied them. Youngsters queue at checkpoints on their way to school and those who step out of line face draconian punishment.

To witness the full force of the merciless subjugation of a Palestinian majority by an Israeli minority, look no further than here.

Against that backdrop, the labelling of the site in the Palestinian-dominated Tel Rumeida neighbourhood as purely Jewish is disgraceful, if unsurprising. The tourists it will draw from across the world will bring Hebron’s extremist settlers into the mainstream. Meanwhile, for the Palestinian families that live in its vicinity, it will mean more checks, more restrictions and more security measures.

Archaeology has been used across the world as an instrument of politics and ideology, to promote an exclusionary narrative or smother a particular group. For instance, Hindu nationalists in India – many of them associated with the ruling BJP – have been accused of weaponising archaeology and conservation to write Islam out of India’s history.

But few governments have used it as frequently and effectively as that of Israel. Hebron has never been a purely Jewish city. And perverting the truth to steal Palestinian lands with impunity demonstrates the immorality of Israel’s government and its army of extremist settlers.