The Israel Defense Forces have reopened the archaeological site of the ancient palaces of the Maccabees to tourists in honor of Hanukkah.
According to the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon, the palaces, located near Jericho in Area C of the West Bank, over which Israel exercises full security control, have been closed due to security considerations for months. The site has been open to tourists for only two days a year until now, once on Passover and once on Sukkot.
Also known as the Hasmonean royal winter palaces, the site contains extensive ruins that once served as the residences of the Maccabean kings. They were employed by the rulers of ancient Judea until the era of King Herod in the first century BCE.
Israel has invested millions of shekels in excavating the site and building infrastructure for tourists, but has thus far all but completely forbidden entrance to visitors.
Yaron Rosenthal, an activist who has been involved in the campaign to open the site, told Makor Rishon that similar security considerations in sites like Mount Hermon have not resulted in similar closures.
“Security danger was never a criteria for where you can travel and where you can’t. It’s a misunderstanding of the role of the army in Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Rosenthal noted that Palestinians from Jericho often vandalize the site in an attempt to destroy proof of the historic Jewish connection to the land.
“If we don’t return and visit this place, the enormous destruction of it will continue and we will be cut off from our people’s ancient history,” he said. “Our history, and especially on the eve of Hanukkah, connects us to the place. On the one hand, the state invests millions in renovating the palaces, and on the other hand forbids citizens from visiting them. It doesn’t make sense.”
An IDF spokesman told Makor Rishon, “The site of the Hasmonean palaces is located on the edge of the Palestinian city of Jericho, and its entrance is dangerous and forbidden without military escort. For the convenience of citizens who wish to enter, it has been decided that on the holidays of Passover and Sukkot, security forces will secure the entrance to the site. It is possible to submit a private request for security, which will be evaluated according to an assessment of the situation.”
The Maccabees play a central role in the Hanukkah tradition as the Jewish rebel warriors who rebelled against the Seleucid Empire and took control of Judea.