Preserving Ancient Heritage: Israel Steps Up to Save Samaria’s Historic Capital

The Israeli government has taken a significant step to preserve its rich history by approving $8.8 million in funding to restore and develop the archaeological park of Sebastia. This ancient site, known as Shomron in Biblical times, served as the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel and later became the burial site of John the Baptist.

The proposal, submitted by Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Tourism Minister Haim Katz, and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, is aimed at safeguarding the archaeologically significant site from illegal attempts by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to take control. The PA has reportedly declared Sebastia a Palestinian heritage site and is promoting illegal and destructive activity, causing severe damage to the antiquities at the site.

To protect and develop the site, the Israeli government plans to build an access road, establish a tourism center, and increase law enforcement to prevent illegal PA construction. The Nature and Parks Authority will also develop a plan within 60 days to preserve and rescue existing heritage assets at the site.

Israel currently controls the archaeological park in Area C, which is administered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The modern town of Sebastia is located in Area B under joint Israeli and Palestinian control, about 12 kilometers northwest of the city of Nablus/Shechem.

The PA has applied for the site to be listed as a United Nations Heritage Site. However, the UN website fails to mention the site’s connection to Jewish history, referring to it as being in “Palestine” and only acknowledging Israel’s “control” of the area.

Shomron’s rich history dates back to the 9th century BCE when it was purchased and built by Omri, the sixth king of Israel, and later destroyed by the Neo-Assyrian Empire around 720 BCE. The city was expanded and fortified by Herod the Great during the early Roman period and was renamed Sebastia in honor of Emperor Augustus.

The Israeli government’s decision to invest in the preservation and development of Sebastia showcases its commitment to safeguarding the nation’s rich cultural and historical heritage. By doing so, Israel is not only protecting its past but also promoting its values and the importance of preserving the unique legacy that has shaped the state and its people.