Archeology as an Annexation Tool: The Case of SEBASTIA
Archeology as an Annexation Tool: The Case of SEBASTIA
Sebastia is among the most important of the over 6,000 archeological sites in Palestine. A prime destination for domestic and foreign tourists, the place can be found within the northern Nablus governorate, approximately 70 km away from Jerusalem. Israel's colonial occupation has blocked the site's potential, from preventing its development to expanding settlements, military raids, and settlers' attacks.
Sebastia has a population of about 3,500. As outlined in the State of Palestine's submission to UNESCO as part of a tentative list of World Heritage Sites:
"Samaria (Sabaste) was the capital city of the northern kingdom during the Iron Age II and has continued to be an important administrative centre of the region. Local Christian and Islamic traditions locate the tomb of John the Baptist in Sebastia. Churches and a mosque were built there dedicated to John the Baptist, prophet Yahia, inaugurating this religious tradition which still continues."
The archeological site is mostly under "Area C," meaning under full Israeli control, which continues to be the main obstacle to its development. Part of the archaeological site and of the village fall within "Area B," yet the Israeli occupation continues to treat it as "Area C." The place in its entirety is an integral part of the occupied State of Palestine.
Across from the archeological site is the illegal colonial settlement "Shavei Shomron," built over the lands of Sebastia, Naqoura, and Deir Sharaf in 1977. Palestinians are unable to expand in Sebastia, so 120 families bought lands and moved out to live in nearby villages. The "Shavei Shomron" settlement has seized a total of 400 dunums [99 acres] of Sebastia lands, and Israel continues to control almost half of the remaining lands located in "Area C," where Palestinian construction is prohibited.
Furthermore, under the protection of the Israeli occupation forces, the "Shomron Regional Council" (council of settlements in the northern West Bank) organizes programs to bring settlers to the area every week. Shop owners are forced to close their shops during the visits, and farmers are prevented from reaching their fields.
Settlers' Attacks and Military Raids During 2022
The village suffers from regular raids and attacks by the occupation forces and settlers. In one instance, settlers protected by the occupation forces closed the road between the villages of Sebastia and Naqoura on 12 January. Four days later, dozens of settlers attacked the homes of Ahmed Mukhaimer and Bilal Omar with stones – they left only after the villagers confronted them.
Another settlers' attack occurred on 26 January against Ahmad Ghazal's home, injuring several family members. Some of them suffered burns after being sprayed with pepper gas. On the same day, a group of settlers assaulted another Palestinian, Ahmad Odeh.
Attacks continued in March. One case involved settlers attacking the citizen Zaki Alawi, breaking his hand, near the junction of the "Shavei Shomron" colonial settlement.
Since the beginning of 2022, there have been at least 15 documented Israeli military raids in Sebastia, which range from accompanying settlers to visiting an archeological site to restricting Palestinian movement.
Through the development of archeological sites, the Israeli occupation authorities have been advancing annexation for several years, including by imposing a distorted historical narrative to justify war crimes. A significant part of this strategy is the cultural appropriation of Palestinian sites, which the Netanyahu government approved as part of the "National Heritage Sites Project" that claimed several sites, including Qumran (near the Dead Sea), Susya, Herodion Mountain (Jabal al-Fureidis), Tel Shiloh, the "City of David" in Silwan, Rachel's Tomb/Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, and the Biar Aqueduct, among other sides. This agenda is being advanced by the Israeli Tourism Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
As of 2019, the Sebastia Municipality, in cooperation with the Palestinian Government and supervised by UNESCO, has begun a program for the rehabilitation of its Old City that has been negatively affected by the Israeli occupation, whether through the "Civil Administration," settlers' attacks, or the Israeli occupation forces. For example, Al-Baidar square rehabilitation has been "obstructed by its use as a parking lot for colonial settlers' cars and buses."
The illegal entity known as "Ariel University," located deep into the occupied West Bank, includes the "Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archeology" that has attempted to conduct excavations at the archeological site of Sebastia. Their involvement also extends to excavations occurring at Tel Al Rumeida (Hebron/Al Khalil).
A clear sign of Israel's ongoing annexation of occupied Palestinian territory is the way the Israeli occupation authorities have used the excuse of "looting" to force Israel's Antiquities Authority to work in the occupied West Bank.
Archeological sites in Palestine, including Sebastia, are being used for annexation and entertainment by religious Zionists, desecrating the sites and preventing their development. Israel, the occupying power, continues to act in violation of its obligations under the signed agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as of its obligations under international law.
 Sebastia Mayor, Mohammad Azem
 “Special Focus on Sebastia for World Tourism Day: Palestinian Tourism Remains a Major Target of Israel’s Colonial Strategy”, Al Haq (2021), available at World Tourism Day_CaseStudy_AG (alhaq.org).
 NAD - Palestinian Monitoring Group
 Haaretz “Under Settler Pressure, Israel Extends Antiquities Authority’s Power Into West Bank”, 8 June 2022 available at https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-06-08/ty-article/.highlight/under-settler-pressure-israel-extends-antiquities-authoritys-powers-into-west-bank/00000181-42f8-df72-a5cb-c2ffa4660000