Israeli authorities thwarted illegal Arab construction that almost destroyed a structure belonging to the hero of Hanukah’s ancestors.

By United With Israel Staff

A Second Temple period site near Jericho was saved from potential damage and destruction on Sunday when Civil Administration officials discovered construction taking place without a permit at the archaeological site. The complex is believed to be associated with a Hasmonean palace built by the ancestors of the Hanukkah hero, priest Mattathias (Matatyahu).

Construction vehicles filled with bricks, cement and other building materials were discovered at the site and immediately confiscated, according to a press release by the Archaeology Unit at the Civil Administration via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The Civil Administration is Israel’s governing body in Judea and Samaria.

The suspects were detained and questioned by the nearby Maale Adumim police.

In May, a tractor performing illegal agricultural work in the area uncovered a massive Jewish burial cave filled with hundreds of bones, dating back to the Second Temple period, according to the Jerusalem Post. Unique inscriptions of three generations of Hasmoneans were also found, providing details of those buried there. Damage had already been done to the cave’s grottoes before the illegal work was discovered.

The bones were reburied in a tomb in Kfar Adumim in the Judean Desert northwest of Maale Adumim.

The caves are the largest Second Temple era burial grounds in Israel, according to a Haifa University professor named Rachel Hachlili, who has extensively studied the Jericho-area Jewish necropolis, a term that refers to large cemeteries with elaborate tomb monuments. The findings have provided an understanding of ancient Jewish funerary customs. However, looting and damage have made further investigations difficult.

Hanania Hizmi, head of the Civil Administration Archaeology Unit, said that historical sites in Judea and Samaria “cannot be damaged” and that “the archaeology unit works tirelessly to develop and preserve the archaeological sites” in those areas, according to the report.

Unfortunately, Palestinians have been caught on numerous occasions destroying ancient artifacts and structures, many of which prove historic Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Director of the Civilian Control Unit, Marco Ben Shabbat, said that the Civil Administration will use “all the tools at our disposal” to continue preventing illegal construction from taking place at archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria, reported the Post.