Palestinian Authority

Israel opens mosaic museum in the West Bank

The $2.5m Museum of the Good Samaritan houses mosaics and antiquities at a Christian pilgrimage site

An ambo carved in bituminous stone from the church at Khirbet Beit Sila (Photo: Shlomi Ammami)

jerusalem. Hours after US president Barack Obama’s historic Cairo speech on 4 June called on Israel to stop building in the West Bank, Israel inaugurated a mosaics museum at a West Bank site.

The opening was planned without consideration for or connection to the speech, said the museum’s planner, archaeologist Dr Yitzhak Magen of Israel’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

The $2.5m Museum of the Good Samaritan, housing nearly 50 mosaics and a collection of antiquities, was opened at the Christian pilgrimage site where the Bible’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is believed to be set. The site also comprises the restored Good Samaritan Inn, a reconstructed Byzantine church, and Second Temple-era dwelling caves.

The museum’s preserved and restored mosaics and other relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries originate from Christian, Jewish and Samaritan historic sites, based on themes in the parable, Dr Magen said. He also said that excavations at the site show it to be the location where King Herod’s palace once stood.

Israel’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) financed 90% of the museum, with 10% from Israel’s tourism ministry.

In an area between Jerusalem and Jericho under Israeli military and civil control, the opening event was flanked by Israeli generals and politicians, in addition to religious leaders and archaeologists. Israel’s parliament speaker, Reuven Rivlin, spoke at the event about the threat to settlements, saying that Israel will not cease to underscore its historical and national roots in the area.

But Palestinians are calling the museum unlawful. Based on prohibitions in international law, UN resolutions, the Oslo Accords and the Road Map, an Israeli museum or any Israeli building in the West Bank is illegal, Marwan Toubassi, the Palestinian deputy minister of tourism and antiquities, told The Art Newspaper.

“As an occupying power, Israel is required [by international law and existing agreements] to preserve the status quo and to act for the benefit of the Palestinian civil population,” Mr Toubassi said.

Since the Pope’s recent visit to the region, Israel has announced that it will open several historic Christian sites in the West Bank to the public, including the Christian pilgrimage site Qasr el Yahud, where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was baptised.

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