Sebastia is situated just a few kilometers northwest of Nablus in the northern West Bank. Known in Hebrew by its biblical name Shomron, the city was capital of the northern Israelite kingdom in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, founded by the sixth Israelite king, Omri.Most of the site is in Area C, but for some reason the PA controls much of it.
Fragments of houses, walls and a palace from the Iron Age remain. After its destruction by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the city became the provincial capital of the conquered region. Under the Greeks it again flourished, but was destroyed by Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus. Then his son Alexander Jannaeaus rebuilt the city and repopulated it with Jews.
During the Roman era, King Herod renamed it after Augustus Caesar — Sebaste is Augustus in Greek. At its height, Sebastia was a major city and entrepôt; the remains of its Roman theater, temple, palaces, forum, hippodrome and marketplace are still visible today.
In the centuries of its long decline, Sebastia was a major Christian site, as underlined by the ruins of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, where legend says he was executed and his head interred. A Crusader cathedral-turned-mosque still stands in the nearby modern Palestinian village, a vestige of the Crusader city’s former glory that shares the same name.
The PA’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities brochure avoids any mention of Israel or a Jewish connection to the site. It notes that Sebastia was “an important administrative and political regional capital during the Iron Age II and III” and was “a major urban center during the Hellenistic period,” but makes no reference to the Israelite Kingdom or the Hasmoneans.
A Palestinian description of Sebastia in a bid to have it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site goes to even greater lengths to omit references to the city’s Jewish history, referring to it as the former “capital of the northern kingdom during the Iron Age II,” and alluding to Jewish figures such as Omri and John Hyrcanus without explanation.
On the other hand, the Nature and Parks Authority’s site makes no reference whatsoever to the village, home to 3,000 Palestinians, in which the church-turned-mosque is located, to the Church of St. John the Baptist located in the ruins, or to the former Crusader presence in Sebastia.
Despite Sebastia’s historical significance, the site has barely been excavated. The last archaeological dig took place in 1967, when the West Bank was still under Jordanian control. Since then only salvage operations have taken place. The national park is dismally neglected. There’s no fence to protect its artifacts, weeds grow rampant throughout, and garbage is littered all over the ancient ruins.
Wafa is now reporting that residents of Sebastia/Samaria are complaining that Jews are visiting the site and trying to "Judaize" the site - a site that was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
The mayor of Sebastia, Moatasem Allioui, said "The occupation is trying to ascribe Jewish legends over the area."
He called on the local and international community to protect the site "from the risk of Judaization and distortion."
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