Prehistoric Palestinian site added to UNESCO world heritage list

Tell al-Sultan is an oval-shaped tell, or mound, in the Jordan Valley, and contains the prehistoric deposits of human activity.

A UN committee has voted to list prehistoric ruins near the ancient city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank as a World Heritage Site in Palestine.

The decision, which has been criticised by Israel, was made at a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday under the auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

The listing refers to the Tell al-Sultan archaeological site nearby, which contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BC and is outside the ancient city itself.

“A permanent settlement had emerged here by the 9th to 8th millennium BC due to the fertile soil of the oasis and easy access to water,” UNESCO said on its website.

This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows a view of the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan
A view of the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan [Hazem Bader/AFP]

Tell al-Sultan, an oval-shaped mound, contains evidence of one of humanity’s first-known villages and an important Bronze-Age town dating back to 2600 BC.

It is around 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from the remains of the first city of Jericho, which contains ruins of importance to Jewish history, including a synagogue dating back to the first century B.C.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth, and is in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that is administered by the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority.

Israel criticises decision

Israel’s foreign ministry released a statement Sunday denouncing the decision, calling it a “cynical ploy”.

“The foreign ministry considers today’s decision another sign of the cynical use the Palestinians are making of UNESCO and the organisation’s politicisation,” the statement said.

“Israel will act with its many friends in the organisation to change the flawed decisions made.”

Israel quit the UN organisation in 2019 over accusations that it fosters an anti-Israel bias, but did send a delegation to this year’s meeting in Saudi Arabia.

This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows an aerial view of the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan, near the Palestinian city of Jericho
An aerial view of the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan [Hazem Bader/AFP]

Israel captured the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three territories for a future state.

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in over a decade, and Israel is currently led by the one of the most far-right, nationalist governments in its history, making any move toward Palestinian statehood appear extremely unlikely.

Historical heritage has long been among the many flashpoints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides using archaeology and conservation to demonstrate what they say is their own unique connection to the Holy Land.

The Palestinian Authority, recognised a decade ago by the United Nations as a nonmember observer state, welcomed the designation of Tell al-Sultan.

President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that it “testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people,” adding that “the state of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique site for the benefit of mankind.”

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