Gaza fights to save its oldest monastery

Palestinians submitted Saint Hilarion to be included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO

AFPPublished: 12:56 June 23, 2013Gulf News

Tel Umm Al-Amr, Palestine: A haven of peace in the sea of concrete that is the Gaza Strip, the crumbling remains of the Holy Land’s oldest monastery are in danger of disappearing for lack of funds to preserve them.

Saint Hilarion, which is located at a site called Tel Umm Al-Amr, draws its name from the fourth century hermit who came from southern Gaza and is considered to be the father of Palestinian monasticism.

Its life close to the Mediterranean shore spanned more than four centuries – from the late Roman Empire to the Umayyad period. Abandoned after an earthquake in the seventh century, it was uncovered by local archaeologists in 1999.

But today, “it’s a complete mess – archaeologically, scientifically and on a human level,” laments Rene Elter, a researcher at the Ecole Biblique, a French academic institution in Jerusalem, who is responsible for trying preserve the site.

“We have to save Saint Hilarion,” Elter said. 
“The situation is critical and we risk losing the site. It is imperative that something is done quickly; otherwise it will be lost, lost forever.”

Just over a year ago, the Palestinians submitted Saint Hilarion to be included on the World Heritage List of Unesco, the UN cultural organisation.

The World Monuments Fund, a New York-based group dedicated to preserving the world’s architectural heritage, last year put it on its Watch list. This is includes sites around the globe at risk from the forces of nature as well as social, political, and economic change.


A mosaic belonging to the archaeological site of the Saint Hilarion Monastery.

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