Mahmoud Joudeh - 28\12\2022

Traveling to the southernmost part of Gaza strip, and 35 km from Gaza city you will end up in the border city of Rafah, and Gazans only gate to the world through Egypt.
Rafah is considered one of the ancient historical cities, having been founded over 5,000 years ago and known by several names. The Pharaohs called it "Robihoy”, the Assyrians called it "Rafiho", the Romans and Greeks called it "Raphia" and the Arabs called it Rafah.
Located at the southernmost western border of the city on the Palestinian-Egyptian border is the Tal Rafah archeological site, also locally known as "Tal Zu’rob" due to the name of Zu’rob family who have inhabited the area for a long time. The archeological site of Tal Rafah covers an area of 150 dunums and rises about 30 meters above sea level.
According to various estimates and recent discoveries, such as the most recent of which was the discovery of a pottery jar containing 1,000 pieces of silver currency dating back, as per the inscriptions thereon, to the Greek period (330 BC), however, the history of Tal Rafah is thought to go back even further. The importance of this site lies in its function as an important surveillance point, whether on land or sea, due to its proximity to the sea by approximately 3 km2. Therefore, it was one of the most important military sites in ancient times.

According to very limited excavation and exploration work that has mostly been carried out using primitive methods, it appears that Tal Rafah site has been inhabited by four major civilizations as indicated by the evidence discovered, including Pharaohs, Greek, Byzantine, and Roman artifacts.
Since the British occupation of Palestine, the land of Tal Rafah has been expropriated and placed under protection and exposed to various acts of looting and deliberate vandalism, particularly during the Gaza Strip occupation in 1965, which lasted for a considerable period of time before the Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza Strip for a term of 38 years until year 2005. During this time, Tal Rafah was used as a military base and excavations were carried out to search for and steal artifacts. After the withdrawal of “Israeli” occupation from Gaza, Tal Rafah was placed under the administration of the Palestinian Authority and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Most of the artifacts that have been found are crockery, columns, coffins and coins with various shapes that date back to the successive civilizations at Tal Rafah. These artifacts were mostly found individually and randomly which contributed to the destruction, vandalism and looting acts in the Tal site by many antiquities thieves due to the lack of appropriate protection for the Tal site and its location in a border area that makes it a permanent scene for smuggling operations.
On the other hand, some of the discoveries have indicated the presence of a church dating back to the Roman era (395 AD - 630 AD). The Ministry of Antiquities in Gaza Strip recently conducted excavations in the depths of the Tal site and discovered an archaeological layer dating back to the Canaanite era (2500 BC - 3000 BC). It is also worth noting that in the past, an excavation team found Canaanite craft works of pottery and other artifacts dating back to the Canaanite era where the most famous jar found was painted on the Canaanite symbol of pelican according to researcher Nariman Khilleh who reported to Arabi 21.
During a conversation with the researcher Nariman, she emphasized that Tal Rafah contained many ancient artifacts that were stolen and part of the site sand was also stolen during the British and Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip.
Khilleh added, “Various ancient artifacts were discovered after excavations and exploration that took place in 2010. Among the most important artifacts”, as she said, “were the silver coins dating back to period of Alexander of Macedonia which were inscribed with the Owl symbol”.
The researcher, Nariman, emphasized that “there is great interest by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in preserving this archaeological site through removal of weeds and continued exploration processes for more historical landmarks and monuments therein. It also provides a protective shield to ensure its preservation".
One of the main challenges facing the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, as said by Khilleh, is the "Israeli" occupation and its imposed blockade on the strip, which has caused a shortage in the capabilities and tools that assist in excavation and digging operations.

Tal Rafah archaeological site remains a mystery yet to be solved, and breeding land for stories and discoveries that have been delayed for many reasons, depriving us and the world of having a new knowledge that will certainly reveal many things which will inevitably be new evidence on the site age and its importance that has been rooted throughout previous civilizations. The importance of these discoveries is even greater in preserving what is discovered, as Gaza Strip lacks of museums that contribute to preserving these relics where the pieces found are preserved in Al-Basha Palace Museum, located in the old city of Gaza, Al-Daraj neighborhood, which is the only museum in Gaza Strip.