The Beit She’arim national park in northern Israel was found vandalized with graffiti last week, prompting the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to file a criminal complaint with the police on Friday.
Originally known as Beit She’arayim, Beit She’arim was an important cultural and religious center during the Second Temple period and the Jewish burial complex there was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015.
Images published by the Haaretz daily showed the site emblazoned with slogans including “Na, Nach,” a phrase associated with Bratslav Hasidim, and “Ana”sh,” an acronym used by Hasidic Jews to refer to members of their community. One spray-painted inscription read “Resting place of our holy rabbi.”
“It’s discouraging, a feeling that anyone can do what they want,” one hiker told Haaretz. “UNESCO or no UNESCO, it feels like everything is allowed. Nothing is protected. There is nothing sacred.”
כתובות גרפיטי רוססו בבית שערים, אתר מורשת עולמית של אונסק"ו https://t.co/DgA7rQEaAz
— Haaretz הארץ (@Haaretz) December 14, 2019
The World Heritage List enshrined Beit She’arim because its catacombs contain a “treasury of artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew” and bear “a unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 CE.”
Beit She’arim reached its apogee as a Jewish burial site in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the common era, after two Jewish revolts against Rome. The adjacent town became a major center of Jewish culture after Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, the redactor of the Jewish legal text known as the Mishnah, moved there. He was among the many prominent Jews buried in the tombs.
The archaeological site is located close to the village of Manshiya Zabda, which was vandalized in an apparent hate crime last week. Some 20 cars had their tires slashed and Hebrew-language anti-Arab graffiti was found sprayed on the walls of buildings. One declared: “Muhammad is a pig”; another said: “Arabs are enemies, expel or kill.” Stars of David were also spray-painted on a building and on a car.