by Ari Lieberman
An excursion to the ancient city reveals its historic and spiritual Jewish nexus.
We departed from Kochav Yair, a quaint, affluent town in central Israel, at precisely 7 a.m. Our destination was the ancient city Jericho, one of civilization’s oldest and the first to be liberated by the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River some 3,400 years ago. Our guide was former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Uzi Dayan. Ironically, he also happens to be nephew to the late Moshe Dayan, who as Israel’s Minister of Defense, led the IDF to victory during the 1967 Six-Day War and returned the city of Jericho to its rightful owners.
Dayan’s manner of speaking is authoritative and deliberate, likely a product of his years of service in the military. His spiritual and nationalistic connection to the land is obvious. And his knowledge of its history and geography is impressive. This is a man who wanted to impress upon us the historical and spiritual nexus of Jericho to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. He succeeded beyond expectation.
Jericho is located in Judea & Samaria near the strategic Jordan Valley, about 70km south of the Israeli city of Bet She’an. We approached the city from the north driving along Route 5, which cuts across part of the breathtaking Samarian landscape and then took a number of smaller roads until reaching Route 90. At Route 90, we traversed southward toward Jericho.
In 1994, The Israeli government handed the city over to the entity known as the Palestinian Authority as part of the calamitous Oslo Accords. The Accords, which were supposed to usher in an era of peace, instead resulted in an orgy of Palestinian terrorism and the dismemberment of parts of ancient Israel.
Judea & Samaria is currently divided into three distinct districts – Areas A, B and C. Area C is currently under full Israeli control and constitutes some 40% of Judea & Samaria. Area B is under PA civilian control and Israeli military control. Area A is under full Palestinian civilian and security control. Together, Area A and B constitute 60% of the landmass of Judea & Samaria.
Jericho is situated in Area A so naturally, our tour had an armed IDF escort and our vehicle’s windows were rock-resistant though I’m not certain it was bulletproof. As we entered Area A, we were greeted by a large red menacing sign which stated that entry of Israeli citizens into Area A was strictly forbidden under the law and that such entry would pose grave danger to our very lives. Anti-Israel activists have for years, and with little success, attempted to propagate the vile calumny that Israel practices Apartheid. But the reality is quite the opposite. Israel is a vibrant democracy where all persons of various religious and ethnic backgrounds are afforded the same opportunities. Yet Area A, a jurisdiction under full Palestinian control remains Judenrein – cleansed of Jews! It’s pretty obvious which side practices Apartheid.
Our first destination in Jericho was Tel Yericho; an ancient, sprawling archaeological mound just on the outskirts of the city. I was quickly struck by how rundown this important site was and how it had been completely neglected by the Palestinian Authority. Israeli antiquity sites are meticulously maintained. They are considered national treasures that connect Israelis to their heritage and are an important source of education and national pride. But the site maintained by the PA’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities looked like an earthen garbage dump. Signs and fencing were torn down and there was little by way of amenities. The only thing the Palestinians seemed interested in doing was giving us paid camel rides on chained, tortured animals exposed to searing temperatures. I passed.
From Tel Yericho we moved on to the Shalom Al Yisrael (Peace unto Israel) Synagogue, so named after the ancient mosaic found on its floors. The synagogue dates to the Byzantine era, a time where Jews were regulated to second class citizenship in their own land. The mosaic bears Jewish symbols such as a Menorah (lit during the holiday of Chanukah) a Shofar or ram’s horn blown during the Jewish New Year, and a Lulav, a closed frond of the date palm tree, and one of the Four Species used during the Jewish festival of Sukkot (left image).
In October 2,000, Palestinian vandals attacked the site and destroyed parts of the priceless mosaic. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA was charged with securing and protecting the holy site and was clearly derelict in carrying out this minimal function. Indeed, some speculate that they were complicit in the vandalism.
From there, we moved on to Na’aran, an ancient Jewish village dating back to the 5th century CE. A synagogue with a large and spectacular mosaic (lower right image) was discovered there as well. In 2012, Palestinian vandals defaced the site with Swastikas.
The repeated attempts by Palestinians to vandalize and destroy priceless antiquities reminds me of similar barbaric behavior carried out by ISIS at Palmyra, Nineveh, Hatra and Nimrud and by the Taliban at Bamiyan, where irreplaceable archaeological treasures were destroyed under the banner of religion.
On our way out of the city, I witnessed a surreal scene that provides me with greater appreciation for what the IDF must endure on a daily basis. A number of Palestinians approached some soldiers at a checkpoint with video cameras and began filming them at close range, sort of the way your annoying kid brother puts his finger in your face and says, “I’m not touching you so you can’t do anything to me.” The soldiers weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary to garner attention. The goal of course was to provoke a violent response which would then be captured on film and sold or given to various media outlets. The soldiers however, didn’t take the bait. They were true professionals who focused on the task at hand and regarded the Palestinians provocateurs as nothing more than nuisances who were to be ignored.
Conceding Jericho to the Palestinian Authority was a colossal blunder of the first order. Nonetheless, continued Israeli excursions to the region, in coordination with the IDF maintain a semblance of continuity and signal to the PA that Israelis and Jews worldwide will never break their bonds with this historically and spiritually significant place.
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