Khirbet Qeiyafa, an ancient city that has recharged the debate about King David, may soon be enveloped by modern buildings. A massive project is bringing the city of Beit Shemesh literally to Qeiyafa’s front door.
The modern city of Beit Shemesh (named for ancient Beth-Shemesh nearby) is located just a few kilometers north of Khirbet Qeiyafa and the green fields of the Elah Valley. The city is undergoing a major southward expansion that will completely transform this part of the Shephelah (Judean foothills). Current plans call for new residential buildings no more than 20 meters from Qeiyafa’s western gate and wall.
Some of the new construction was visible during the dig season this past summer.
Here is a concept for the current urbanization plan, going right up to the western (Area B) gate of Qeiyafa.
Qeiyafa also has numerous ancient structures located outside the city walls. These lower areas have not yet been excavated. The current construction plan would obliterate much of the ancient lower city.
A number of concerned individuals are petitioning the Israeli government to adopt a revised plan that preserves a 200-meter distance between urban areas and the ancient site. Here is a concept of their suggested plan.
The construction process is causing great concern by itself. The photo below shows the impact of work up to 100 meters away from one of the new buildings. Could heavy equipment be used just 20 meters away from Qeiyafa without resulting in serious damage to the site?
The remains of a city from the time of kings Saul and David sit on a hill for 3,000 years with minimal disturbance. Suddenly modern urbanism brings heavy equipment and dense urbanization just a few feet away. Khirbet Qeiyafa holds an unusually rich 10th century B.C. layer. What would be the effect of heavy equipment and the dumping of trash and debris, not to mention easier site access for looters and vandals?
It should be mentioned that other important sites such as Tel Azekah and Socoh are in this immediate vicinity. The expansion would no doubt impact these ancient sites just as we are beginning to unearth some of their secrets.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is filling in material gaps that shape our knowledge of Israel and Judah during the formation of their early monarchies. Wherever one stands on the interpretation of the site, we may all agree that Qeiyafa is among the most important sites for understanding Canaan in the 10th century. It should be protected.
A Facebook page has been set up to draw attention to this situation. You can “Like” it to increase online support for a modified plan that will better protect the ancient site.
Israel has to strike a delicate balance between preserving its ancient past and meeting the modern needs of its people. Construction projects often pause for brief “emergency” excavations when workers uncover something interesting in the dirt. The finds are quickly catalogued and recorded and then construction continues.
It is unrealistic and unfair to insist the land be treated as no more than an ancient museum. At the same time, this land is more than just a collection of farms and ruins. Many religious and cultural roots touch it. An irreplaceable heritage measured in millennia can be lost by a moment’s poor stewardship. Will you lend your support to a revised plan that meets modern needs and still protects the special nature of this area?