Thursday 2 December 2010

"Looting the Holy Land" or Pillaging the Truth?

There are two articles on the Bible and Interpretation website run by Paul V.M. Flesher (University of Wyoming, Program in Religious Studies) and J.E. Wright (University of Arizona, Center for Judaic Studies) discussing the Al-Jazeeera film "Looting the Holy Land" which I noted here earlier, and like it are an interesting example of the use of the heritage debate in modern politics. It is however notable that here those who are addressing the claims of "propaganda" and "misrepresentation" are actually engaging with the text and addressing its arguments with verifiable counter-arguments (unlike, as we have seen, the supporters of the damaging no-questions-asked market in antiquities who fail every time to step up to the plate).

Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) '"Looting the Holy Land" or Pillaging the Truth?')and labels the film "a piece of political propaganda, aimed – as the bon ton goes today (sic) – at de-legitimizing Israel" and therefore sets out to demonstrate point by point "why this is a worthless film, ridden with manipulations, political propaganda, incorrect facts and even lies". Finkelstein points out that "most of the looting in the West Bank (as well as in Israel!) has been carried out by Palestinians" and not Israelis. He corrects statements made in the film about Hisham's palace near Jericho, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Moshe Dayan and disputed sites in Jerusalem, and claims that the film contains several false allegations.

Finkelstein concludes:
With all criticism that one (once in a while by this author, too) may have concerning the Israel Antiquities Authority, the organization administers archaeology in Israel in an efficient, orderly and professional way. [...] In the end, archaeology – as every other science – is decided by the level of education and scholarly work, not by politics and propaganda.

I was quite interested in this quarrel:
The narrator complains that only Jewish antiquities are being sold in the Arab markets of east Jerusalem and that Islamic antiquities have no value in these markets. Now, the value of antiquities rises and falls in accordance with the interest of foreign tourists and possible (mainly foreign) collectors. If there were genuine interest by Arab collectors in their heritage, the price would go up overnight.
An odd argument that if more collectors bought looted items they would be more highly valued. Hooray.

Joe Zias (formerly Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem) also has a piece on this film ("Looting the Holy Land") which says much the same. In fact it is the same text as has already appeared elsewhere. He adds one piece of information:
The segment where the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to thoroughly search the area between Jericho and Qumran, which was being given back to the Palestinians, is unfortunately accurate, and, aside from me (I personally refused to cooperate in such an endeavor), all my colleagues in the IAA cooperated. The director was not happy with my refusal. This “militarily run” operation cost the IL taxpayer an enormous amount of money and aside from one find, the so-called “Cave of the Warrior,” produced nothing of any scientific value. Local Palestinians looking for more Dead Sea Scrolls had looted all the caves years earlier. It was a total waste of money and an affront to the Palestinians.

He also touches upon the role of the failure of the legislation of the laws which govern the Israeli antiquities market to stem the flow of antiquities looted outside Israel through the country's dealers (a topic discussed here before):
Looting in the region, which the IAA has largely prevented, is relatively benign when compared to the eastern side of the Dead Sea where it’s almost a cottage industry. Two vast cemeteries immediately come to mind, Kh. Qazone from the Nabatean period and Bab edh-Drah from the Early Bronze period, the former containing 3,500 or more graves is practically devoid of any untouched graves due to looting. Since Jordanian law, unlike Israeli law, does not permit the sale of antiquities nor their transport abroad, then where are these looted objects sold? One has to travel to London, England where there are large rail containers filled with these antiquities looted from the eastern borders of the ancient Holy Land. According to Israeli law, their final destination, the importation of antiquities via antiquity dealers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is not against the law.
Some of this material may well be what is being sold through discussion lists such as Tim Haines' "Yahoo AncientArtifacts" discussion list, as it is unexplained where dealers advertising there obtain the quantities of freshly-excavated material they have on offer from within the borders of Israel.

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