Israel Renounces Imperial Monument


Herod,…sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; Matthew 2:7-8



Against all odds, the last landmark I saw before my exile began was Herodion. It was as unexpected as the map to the right is misleading. Herodion is marked with an “A,” and is located just a few kilometers southeast of Jerusalem. One may think the place an ancestral city park in the outskirts of town with posh coffee shops surrounding it. Yet, this is not the case.

East of the drainage divide line, the Judea Desert begins, and the landscape becomes morbidly arid. The unforgettable shape of Herodion, an almost perfect cone of dusty grey, emerges out of a perfect desert. Jerusalem seems to be a million miles away; civilization seems to be even more remote.
Distressed by his political weakening following the recent elections, Emperor Netanyahu is a bit confused. Time Magazine just published its 2013 Time 100, the list of most influential people; Netanyahu was replaced in the list by Yair Lapid, leader of the second largest party in Netanyhau’s coalition. Shocked, King Bibi turned his attention back to Imperial Graves; after all this could become a pertinent topic earlier than expected.

Herodion marked “A” Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant

                            Herodion, Herodium, Frankenberg, Jabal al-Fourdis Picture colors are misleading, except for random rains, this area is grey

It is not Bibi’s Fault
Yet, it is not just Bibi’s fault. As often reported, the Israeli Administration is utterly confused, seldom being capable of differentiating between legitimate and illegitimate, never having proved being capable of differentiating between good and evil. Israel Nature and Parks Authority is responsible for the Herodion National Park; this is odd because the highest peak in the Judean desert is within the West Bank. In other words, this is an informally annexed* part of the West Bank by Israel. The definition of the site as a National Park has created a tiny population in it; moreover it is being steadily surrounded by Jewish settlements, like Tkoa.

Herodion is named after its constructor, Herod the Great. Between 23 and 15 BC, he built a fortress, a palace and a small town watching over the dramatic desert connecting Jerusalem with the Dead Sea. After his death, he was buried there; his tomb is believed to have been found in 2007. Herod was King of Judea, which at the time was subjugated to the Roman Empire.
He is known also for two other major projects, the restoration and expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, nowadays home to Netanyahu’s Palace, a lesser king of a puppet-state subjugated to the USA.
Herod made it into the Bible (see quotation at the top of the page), where he is described as responsible for the Massacre of the Innocents; his cruelty and bestiality were also described extensively by Roman–Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. Herod as a proto-Bibi, Bibi version 0.1.
Bibi the Great Planned a Tomb
One of the strangest events related with Herodion took place in May 2007. Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, claimed then to have located the burial site of Herod the Great. He discovered a ramp winding around the hill from the lower palace complex and stadium; along it were a theater and a monumental staircase, which led past a platform to a tomb which Netzer claimed King Herod was buried in.
He based this conclusion in the finding of a sarcophagus “shattered into hundreds of pieces,” thing that matched the description of  Josephus Flavius, who wrote that the shattering was perpetrated “by Jewish dissidents during the first revolt against the Romans between AD 66 and 72.” The claim is doubtful, most objects found in such sites are shattered; few things survive two millenia unscathed.

Herod Tomb Marked with a circle, next to the main stairs access Herod King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans
Yet, why should I deny a humanist-archeologist his beliefs? Censorship of others is a trademark of Humanism; religious people respect others. As long as he respects my rights and freedoms, he may believe that Herodion was built by Aymaras. Yet, from this point onwards, Netzer and Netanyahu got strange. By 2010, Netzer made a five-meter tall reconstruction of what he claimed was the original three-storey burial site.
At the time, Shaul Goldstein was General Director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority; before that he had been Head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, the most populated Jewish council in the West Bank (Israel Gives Christmas Gift of Hatred). Goldstein expectedly supported Netzer’s proposal to reconstruct the site. They went to Netanyahu, who joined the project. Oddly enough, Netzer died in a tragic accident(?) in Herodion in October 2010; he unexpectedly fall in a place he knew very well.
Once the only expert on the site died, Netanyahu was comfortable proposing a spectacular 25m tall structure (like an eight-storey building) to immortalize the greatness of his favorite assassin-king. Unexpectedly, people complained about the plan. Netanyahu decided on a public hearing that took place on March 2013, in Ramat Rachel, the place marked “D” in the map above. From there, Herodion can be seen.
The main complains were that the archaeological remnants would be dwarfed by the new structure, that the landscape would be damaged, that the entire event would be considered an insult by Christians, that the site is in occupied territory, and that the proposed structure had no historical base. Israeli media reported that one of the participants, who asked to remain anonymous, said “Archeology is not Disneyland.” Following the unexpected fiasco, Netanyahu and the Nature and Parks Authority decided to scrap the ambitious plan. “One can’t even invent the past these days!” was the unconfirmed reaction of Netanyahu.
Along the years, the Israeli Administration has invariably proven to be vindictive. This case was not different. On April 18, the Authority reacted: “Following the public hearing organized by the Nature and Parks Authority, we have achieved a better understanding that will enrich and improve the original idea. The exposition at the Israel Museum will close within eight months; afterwards the items will be returned to Herodion, where they will be used in the restoration process. We have no doubt that the public hearing was constructive and we are working on the reconstruction of Herod’s Tomb in ways that will fit the proposals there.” Fine, build your utopia; just be careful not to fall while inventing the site. Odd accidents happen near Israeli authorities.


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Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards. In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.