Three weeks ago, Israeli police found a mosaic floor in an Arab car. The Antiquities Authority has confirmed that the floor belongs to a previously undiscovered synagogue in the Ramallah area.
Researchers from the Israeli Antiquities Authority believe that the mosaic formed part of an ancient synagogue floor because it contained depictions of Jewish symbols, such as the base of a menorah (a seven branched candelabrum), a lulav (palm branch), and dates.
Another, no less interesting feature of the mosaic, are the words “Shalom (peace) on Israel” which are inscribed on it. At first, researchers thought the thieves had stolen the mosaic floor of an ancient Jericho synagogue, known as the “Shalom on Israel” synagogue, because it has the same inscription.
But after some checking, the researchers learned that the floor of the Jericho synagogue, located in an area subject to the jurisdiction of the PA, was intact and in place. The inevitable conclusion was that the newly discovered mosaic was from an as yet undiscovered ancient synagogue.
Researchers surmise that the synagogue is located somewhere in the Ramallah area, because the two suspects in the car where the mosaic was found, are from Shuafat, a north Jerusalem neighborhood bordering Ramallah.
The precise location of the synagogue can only be guessed at, because areas such as Ramallah, which are controlled by Palestinian Authority security forces, are off-limits to Jews. Jews who attempt to visit or do research in those areas are at risk of being kidnapped or killed.
Ironically, the “Shalom on Israel” synagogue in Jericho is also off-limits to Jews, despite a specific provision of the Oslo accords that guarantees Jewish access to the site.
During the First and Second Temple periods, the Ramallah area was located in the heart of the Jewish commonwealth, so the possibility of an undiscovered synagogue in the area came as no surprise to antiquities researchers.
Like many archeological discoveries, this one was revealed entirely by accident, when border police stopped and searched a suspicious vehicle. When they saw the mosaic, police knew they were on to something unusual, and immediately called in a special unit, whose job is to investigate the theft of antiquities. That unit turned the mosaic over to the Antiquities Authority.
Despite the security obstacles, the Antiquities Authority said it will attempt to use undercover means to discover the exact location of the synagogue.