ANCIENT SHECHEM, Samaria -- Tel Balata is identified with ancient Shechem in Samaria, where the Israelites buried Joseph's bones when they returned from Egypt.
It's located in the Palestinian Arab city of Nablus. Mount Gerezim and Mount Ebal -- the biblical mountains of blessing and cursing -- tower on either side.
Archaeologists first excavated here 100 years ago. But later the site was abandoned.
The ancient walls that protected biblical Shechem were 40 feet high and 12 feet wide. The Bible says Jacob bought a piece of land and pitched his tents there.
Dr. Hamdan Taha told CBN News by telephone the Palestinian Authority, a Dutch University and UNESCO now want to make the site an archaeological park. He says the dig will help Palestinians re-write history.
"This excavation and the role of the Department of Antiquities marks a new era where Palestinians are contributing effectively in the process of writing or re-writing the history of Palestine," he stated.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson says the facts are on Israel's side.
"Of all places in the world if we're going to start having an argument about archaeology -- the city of Shechem is probably the place they shouldn't be having that argument with us," Hirschson said.
"Under the ground -- 3-1/2 thousand years -- we're going to find Jewish history there," he declared.
According to Taha, the Palestinian narrative says even though most Palestinians are Muslim, everything that happened here for thousands of years is part of Palestinian history linked to Palestinian Arabs now living in the West Bank (known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria).
"Palestinians, spiritually they represent a mosaic of culture and religions, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism," Taha told CBN News.
But Hirschson disputes that claim.
"I wouldn't say Judaism by any means, by anyone's measurement, is a part of Palestinian history," he said.
Israelis say sites like Shechem validate their claim to biblical promises, giving them Judea and Samaria.
Palestinians think differently.
"It is making use of archaeology as a means for justification of settlement and seizure of land," Taha said.
Hirschson insists the archaeology speaks for itself.
"Archaeology, together with many other factors, gives very, very strong evidence of the fact that we have rights," he said. "We are here by rights, and we have a long historical connection with the region and with the area."
--Originally aired August 11, 2011.