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Negev 'Heritage Site' Vandalized
Ancient Nabatean town latest victim in struggle over illegal building
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2009-10-07 10:00 (KST)   
Knocked down columns in vandaklized Nabatean town Avdat
©2009 Courtesy of The Jerusalem Post
A world heritage site in the central Negev from the time of antiquity was vandalized in a late night raid on Monday, leaving an appalling trail of smashed columns, broken walls and shattered mosaic floors smeared with spray paint and splashed with thick black oil.

Israeli police arrested two middle aged men, including the Beduin security guard employed at the site, whom they suspect were responsible for rampage which resulted in extensive damage to the preserved third century BCE Nabatean city.

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This is believed to have been in reprisal to the recent demolition by state authorities of iIllegally built Beduin structures nearby.

Avdat was declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2005.

Israeli media reported that the vandals had knocked down arches that were thousands of years old and pillars that once supported houses of worship including the remains of two of the oldest Byzantine churches dating from the third century CE.

"It was as if a pogrom had swept through the site," said a tearful Raviv Shapira, who heads the southern district of the Israel Nature and Parks Protection Authority. "I've never seen such unparalleled destruction."

Avdat was named after the Nabatean King Obodas who was revered as a deity, and according to tradition, was buried at the town. Recent excavations have revealed that Avdat was continuously inhabited until its destruction in an earthquake in the early seventh century CE. Remnants of a small Roman residential quarter and army camp were among the findings there which were also vandalized. Other treasures include ancient inscriptions, a water well and a baptismal pool.

More than 50,000 tourists and hikers visit the Avdat archaeological park annually. The site is marked as the first stop after the Nabatean city Petra in present day Jordan. The two towns straddle the ancient caravan trail along which commercial goods, spices and perfumes were transported on camel back between Asia, the Near East and Europe during antiquity. Restored elements of the town's ancient agricultural civilization are also on exhibit.

The damage to Avdat appears to have been the latest tragic round in a constant battle between Beduin citizens in the south and efforts by the state to enforce its authority against unauthorized Beduin construction.

In turn, angry Beduin residents take revenge by destroying state and private Jewish property.

Israeli farmers regularly complain about Beduin thefts amounting to thousands of dollars lost in expensive agricultural equipment, irrigation piping, crops and livestock to avenge Beduin house demolitions.

A spokesman for the Negev Development Authority said it would take archaeologists at least six months to repair the damage, but in some cases the desecration caused could be irreparable.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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