Israel is concerned that the Palestinian Authority is going to lose or destroy ancient artifacts from an ornate fortress dating back to the Hasmonean dynasty, currently under excavation near Bethlehem. The PA has been organizing the digs, which are located in Area A in the West Bank.
The issue of the PA-administered digs came to light earlier this week after the Kfar Etzion Field School conducted a preliminary tour of the area, prepping for an IDF-approved trip and walkabout at the site for tour guides in training. The trip to the area of the Hasmonean fortress was the first such Israeli outing to the area to be approved in 20 years. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, no Israeli has legally stepped foot in the area.
The site -- situated south of Bethlehem -- is nicknamed Tel Beit Betzi and includes the remains of an elaborate fortress dating back to the Hasmonean dynasty during the Roman period. Excavations completed in the 1980s uncovered a bulwark constructed following the battle of Elasa in 160 B.C.E., in which Hasmonean rebel leader Judah Maccabee was killed.
Judah's younger brother, Jonathan, was instated as the new leader of the rebellion. Several years later, while living in the area of modern Modiin, Jonathan caught wind of the Hellenist intention to extradite him, so he barricaded himself in the fortress located at the Betzi settlement.
Yaron Rosenthal, director of the Kfar Etzion field school, said that "although diplomatic agreements left the former settlement in Area A, there's no reason for our nation to abandon the cultural legacy from the time of the Maccabees' rebellion."