Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA): Israel's ancient wonders face ruin

by Ben Hartman, JPOST

Israel's greatest archeological treasures are in danger of being destroyed by natural disasters and vandalism, and preventative measures must be taken, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) warned on Wednesday.

The statement came at the end of a three-day workshop in Acre called "Disaster Risk Reduction to Cultural Heritage," convened by the IAA and the Israel Commission for UNESCO. The event hosted experts from around the world in an effort to brainstorm ways to safeguard Israel's antiquity sites from destruction.

During the conference, IAA leaders cited dangers, including the possibility of earthquakes, which could threaten sites like Masada, Beit She'an and Jerusalem's Old City, all of which are located near active fault lines with a history of earthquakes.

Speaking at the conference, IAA director Shuka Dorfman called on the government to take the initiative and be better prepared in case of natural disasters rather than hold "an investigation the day after."

Dorfman also vowed that the IAA will create a "rapid response mechanism" that will be deployed to minimize damage and boost rehabilitation efforts in event of natural disasters.

The IAA also called for greater security for archaeological sites in order to prevent incidents like the vandalism of UNESCO site Uvdat in the Arava, which suffered millions of shekels in damage when two suspects allegedly poured paint and smashed and overturned ruins at the ancient Nabatean and Byzantine archaeological site.

The three-day event was the second of its kind, coming a year after experts from around the world met in Olympia, Greece for the International Workshop on Disaster Risk Management at World Heritage Properties.

Hanan Kislev, head of the preservation branch of the IAA, said the conference was a success but that the issue of protecting Israel's archaeological wonders still needs greater public awareness.

"We're not saying the solution is through legislation, what we want first is to raise public awareness about these threats" Kislev said, adding that the issue was in large part a budgetary one.

Kislev also said that if the IAA and UNESCO in Israel and other countries can continue to exert pressure on local leaders and raise public awareness then "working together we can find solutions to these threats and be prepared in case they happen."

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