On Sunday, the Israeli government approved a budget of $8.8M to restore the Sebastia archaeological site near the West Bank city of Nablus.
The historical site is claimed by both Israeli and Palestine as an important cultural heritage site, but it has been largely neglected.
The proposal was submitted by Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Tourism Minister Haim Katz, and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who argue that the Palestinian Authority, which oversees some areas in the West Bank, is trying to take control of the site illegally, according to a report in the Haaretz daily. In their proposal, they wrote that the Palestinian Authority recently “declared Sebastia a Palestinian heritage site and promotes illegal and destructive activity in the area with the aim of taking over the place,” while “severely damaging the antiquities at the site.”
Sebastia is situated a few kilometers northwest of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Known in Hebrew by its biblical name Shomron, the site is thought to have been the capital of the northern Israelite kingdom in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, founded by the sixth Israelite king, Omri.
Both Israelis and Palestinians lay claim to the site as their exclusive cultural heritage but it has lain mainly underdeveloped and unexcavated. Israel controls the archaeological park containing the ancient finds, which is in Area C, but the town of Sebastia is in Area B, under joint Israeli and Palestinian control. Its municipality is headed by Palestinian officials who say they want to administer the park, but lack the resources to develop it.
The Israeli government’s approved funding, drawn from eight ministries including tourism; environmental protection; culture and sports; and innovation, science and technology, will go toward establishing a tourism center at the site, building new access roads, mapping untouched areas, and increasing law enforcement to prevent illegal activity, according to Hebrew media reports.