By: Andrew Isaacson
Israeli enforcement agencies were successful on Sunday in catching five suspects by the Khirbet Jahush site in the Zevulun Valley in the north conducting illegal digging and destroying antiquities.
The suspects were identified as residents of the Arab towns of Ibelin and Tamra and had manual digging tools and a backhoe with them. The unlawful excavation was executed on a destructive scale.
The suspects were caught while they were trying to evacuate the site. Indictments are expected to be filed against them. The two vehicles and backhoe discovered will be sequestered once the proceedings are over.
Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit in Northern Israel, said the excavation with the backhoe caused irreparable damage to the archaeological remains. He said the ashlars of a public building were displaced and mosaic floors were broken.
Distelfeld said a lot of the community contributed to catching the suspects.
“The seizure was successful thanks to the assistance of the Tamra police, Mate Asher border police, RTG inspectors, members of Kibbutz Afek and loyal volunteers,” he said. “The Israel Antiquities Authority will continue its efforts in enforcement activities in the open areas, so that we can preserve the heritage assets.”
Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Antiquities Robbert Prevention unit, said this particular antiquity site has not been scientifically researched and any kind of damage will make it difficult for archaeologists to understand the history and inhabitants of the site.
Khirbet Jahush is located in agricultural land between Kiryat Ata and Highway 70 in northern Israel and was inhabited from the Byzantine period to the Middle Ages.
Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Division, previously commented on gangs of antiquities robbers and said the finds recovered and stolen “are sold for large sums of money in the antiquities markets in Israel and around the world. Over the years, many of the plundered finds reached the antiquities markets in Israel and abroad, but it has been decades since perpetrators were caught red-handed. This is mainly due to the difficultly in detecting and catching them on the wild desert cliffs.”
It is illegal in Israel for anyone without a license to excavate and destroy antiquities sites and someone could be sent to jail for up to five years under the law.
In an unrelated development, it was also reported by TPS on Monday that IDF forces and the police captured two infiltrators who crossed the border from Lebanon into Israel on Sunday night.
The initial incident was feared to be a terror attack, and the IDF sent residents in the area into shelters and secure spaces.
A further inquiry led the Israeli forces to believe the incident was not terrorism-related but was an attempt by job seekers to enter the country illegally.