The antiquity looters were digging for treasure in the well, following a southern Bedouin myth. One of the robbers was previously charged for antiquity looting and was released on probation.

Earlier this month, the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority caught a team of three antiquity robbers “on the job” while excavating and destroying historical layers in an Ottoman well next to the Rahat cemetery. The team is suspected of searching for a hidden treasure, which, according to a Bedouin myth, was buried in the well in the cave.

The archaeological site of Horvat Maaravim, near Rahat, where there are ancient remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic, and Ottoman periods, was being watched by the Israel Antiquities Authority. On Tuesday, November 15, in the early evening, suspicious figures were seen approaching the site and entering the cave covering the rock-hewn water well on the southern side of the site.

The Israel Antiquities Authority Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit inspectors hurried to the site. They reached the cave entrance without being spotted, catching the robbers in the act of digging up the archaeological site.

The suspects, in their twenties, were arrested—with the assistance of Border Patrol Police and the security staff of the Rahat municipality—and were taken for questioning during the night.

One of the looters was arrested in the past and charged for a similar offense in 2020 when he received a punishment on probation of half a year imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 shekels.

“After the summer heat, we witness an increase in antiquity robbing activities,” says Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Eli Escusido, “The Israel Antiquities Authority is busy combatting the phenomenon of antiquity theft day and night. The looters are motivated by financial gain; they rip the finds from their archaeological context, thus damaging the country’s heritage.”

According to Amir Ganor, Director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It must be absolutely clear to the public that rumors of hidden treasures have no archaeological or historical basis. No treasure has been discovered to date, but irreparable damage has been done to the archaeological sites, undermining the possibility of reconstructing the history of this country’s peoples.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority communicated that damaging an archaeological site is a grave criminal offense, for which the punishment by law is up to five years imprisonment.