The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement last week that a baptismal font stolen from an archaeological site near the city of Tekoa some 20 years ago had been recovered. 

“This is an important and exciting moment,” said Hananya Hizmi, head of the Archaeological Unit at the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body that governs the West Bank. “We have succeeded in returning a unique archaeological relic after years of searching.”

COGAT did not release details of the operation which involved the IDF.  Immediately after the font was recovered, Palestinian media reported it had been “stolen” from the Arab town of Tuqu’, southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi called the IDF operation “an abominable act of thuggery and cultural appropriation.”

“A hallmark of Israel’s system of colonial occupation and oppression has been its disdainful attempts to erase Palestinian presence, culture, and heritage, including the illegal appropriation and theft of heritage sites and artifacts,” she said in a press release.

The octagonal baptismal font dating back to the 5th Century CE was carved into a monolithic block of reddish limestone and measures a meter and ten centimeters deep inside, and one meter thirty centimeters in diameter. On different sides of the octagon, crosses were carved. At the bottom of the baptismal font, the water flowed through an opening into a tank.

According to the report, the basin is one of only three of its kind. Another was recently found in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, while the last is located in a church in Bayt Jibrin, also in the West Bank.

From the 4th century CE, a tomb alleged to be the resting place of Amos was said to be visible at the village. A chapel built over the tomb is attested in the 6th century and is mentioned again in the 8th. The ruins consist of a double cave over what was a baptismal font, mosaic floors. The remains of the Byzantine church and monastery are still visible.

The Bible indicates Tekoa (now Khirbet Tuqu’) as the birthplace of prophet Amos.

The words of Amos, a sheepbreeder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Yisrael in the reigns of Kings Uzziyahu of Yehuda and Yerovam son of Yoash of Yisrael, two years before the earthquake. Amos 1:1

Tekoa is in Gush Etzion, southeast of Jerusalem and adjacent to Bethlehem.