Gesher Benot Ya'aqov

The Chain of Events - Full Version

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At the beginning of the summer of 1999, the Kinneret Drainage Authority initiated a project whose aim is to deepen the River Jordan at its outlet from the south of the Hulah Valley, from the Pkak Bridge to Chastellet, to improve the southward flow of water in its course.

Since a large part of the project was destined to be carried out in an area declared as an antiquity site, the Israel Antiquities Authority requested the Drainage Authority to examine the implications of the project for the prehistoric site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.

On July 16th 1999 a visit to the site was conducted with the participation of the Director of the Drainage Authority, Eitan Sat, the engineer of the Drainage Authority, Nir Raveh, and representatives of the Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University. Following the visit, during which the plan for the deepening of the Jordan was presented and the reservations of the archaeologists were heard, a comprehensive archaeological and geological survey of the banks of the Jordan to the north of the bridge in the area declared as an antiquity site was conducted during September 1999. As a result, the following recommendations were formulated:

  1. No work will be carried out to the south of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov bridge.
  2. The banks of the Jordan above the waterline are totally excluded from the work.
  3. In the absence of an alternative, work will be permitted in the area extending about 500 meters to the north of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov bridge, up to the border of the declared antiquity site, under close supervision by the Antiquities Authority.

A report presenting the archaeological and geological findings and detailing the recommendations was submitted on 13th September 1999, and as a result the Antiquities Authority released part of the declared antiquity site, subject to the boundaries detailed in the report.

From October 1999 the Kinneret Drainage Authority began deepening works in the Jordan. The work was carried out by several pieces of mechanical equipment, the largest of which weighs 6 tons. The excavating vehicles advanced in the bed of the Jordan while digging in the river bed and banks, piling up the excavated material on the banks, from which it was collected and dumped at various spots on the eastern bank of the Jordan at some distance from the river.

During the works, a previously unknown site of the Middle Paleolithic period was exposed and seriously damaged. At this site, situated at the outlet of Nahal Mahanayim into the Jordan, a wealth of stone tools typical of the Mousterian culture, exceptionally well-preserved bones of animals such as horses, cervids and ancient cattle, and remains of botanical material were exposed. The site was declared an antiquity site and will undoubtedly be a fruitful field for research in the future.

In early November the deepening work reached a point some 500 meters north of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, a point marked by the appearance of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov Formation on both banks of the Jordan and where the excavations of the late Prof. Moshe Stekelis had taken place. Following damage to the antiquities, the inspector of the Antiquities Authority issued an order halting the work, as authorized by the Antiquities Authority Law. A few days later the inspector visited the works site and discovered that work had continued despite the order halting it. A complaint was made to the police in Katsrin against the Director of the Drainage Authority, the contractor carrying out the works and the operator of the vehicle.

On Friday December 24th 1999, it was discovered that during the previous week the Drainage Authority had carried out work in the entire area which had been prohibited, including the area to the south of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov bridge, causing massive damage to the archaeological and geological strata. The work was done deliberately under cover of darkness, and in blatant violation of the Antiquities Law. In interviews in the press and in conversations held with him, the Director of the Kinneret Drainage Authority, Eitan Sat, admitted that the work was done on his orders and in the certain knowledge that it would cause damage to an archaeological site. His version is ample witness to his ignorance of archaeological research and its methods, his disregard of the law and his neglect of the values of nature, environment and science.

The damage

The present-day flow of the Jordan cuts down the archaeological layers of the Gesher Benot Ya`aqov Formation, which contain a wealth of tools, bones and other finds. This formation is now recognized as extending over some 2.5 kilometers of the banks of the Jordan, from Chastellet to about one kilometer north of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov bridge, opposite the Benot Ya'aqov hot springs. The brutal excavation works have caused serious damage to these strata, as proved by the hundreds of stone tools and bones collected on visits to the dumps. The works did not even spare the excavation area on the river bank itself, where the tusk and vertebra of an elephant, and bones of horses, an onager, a hippo, cattle, gazelles, turtles, birds and others were exposed, together with an assemblage of stone tools that is one of the richest found in any level of the site. Additional significant damage was caused in the area some 500 meters north of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov bridge, where Prof. Moshe Stekelis (No. 45 in the bibliography) conducted his excavations. This area is particularly rich in finds of stone tools and animal bones and was not excavated by modern methods, and thus constitutes the main potential for future research on Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.

From the scientific point of view, the damage that has been caused may be summarized by the following points:
  1. Strata rich in archaeological finds have been brutally dug out and dumped in heaps. The finds that they contained are now lacking in any scientific value, since they have been taken out of their archaeological context and it is impossible to establish their date, origin or cultural significance.
  2. Any attempt to establish the chronological and geological field relationships between the different levels of the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov Formation in the different areas of its exposure to the north and south of the bridge has been disastrously compromised by the works.
  3. In the excavation area of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, seven occupation strata comprising seven different sites were uncovered. The strata continue into the bed of the Jordan. The works have irrevocably destroyed any chance of establishing what is hidden in deeper strata, and what are their stratigraphic and chronological relationships with the excavated strata.
  4. The geological data that were imbedded in the strata through which the Jordan flows have been irreversibly damaged. This part of the Jordan River is the last remnant of the geological section and presents unique testimony to the geological history of the Hulah Valley in the last millions of years, a subject that is still an enigma in research.

The site in the last excavation season

The site after the drainage works

Apart from the damage to archaeological research, serious damage has been done to the environment of the Jordan bank, which attracts thousands of visitors and tourists. The damage done to Israel's reputation in the eyes of the global scientific community as a state that upholds the law and protects its cultural assets is inestimable. It should be remembered that the works were carried out by a public employee and at the public expense.

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