Tuesday 29 October 2013

Metal Detectorists Arrested for Illegal Digging in Israel

Ben Hartman, 'Antiquities Authority, southern police arrest antiquities thieves ' The Jerusalem Post Online Edition October 27, 2013

In the Holy Land region, the antiquities theft industry is a highly lucrative multi-million dollar illicit business involving illegal excavators, dealers, and collectors, working in Israel, the West Bank, with contacts abroad. The most highly-skilled excavators come from villages in the south Hebron Hills area where generations of men have made a living from illegally excavating antiquities from archaeological sites within the Green Line. They search for all types of collectable relics, but in particular, coins from the Bar Kochba era which can fetch thousands of dollars from collectors abroad. They have no problems shifting them to no-questions-asking buyers.
Israel Antiquities Authority anti-theft officers and police from the Kiryat Gat station on Sunday arrested a man from the moshav of SdeMosheh, suspected of stealing antiquities from archaeological sites in the Lachish region. The man was arrested a few months after he was first caught by IAA enforcement officials with a metal detector digging illegally in an archaeological site, after which they began to perform surveillance on him. On Sunday, they arrived at his house backed up by Kiryat Gat police to execute a search warrant. During the sweep of the house they found a number of relics including ancient coins, candle holders, and metal tools used for excavating. They said they also found some documents indicating that he had been dealing in antiquities. The 43-year-old man could now potentially face charges of damaging an archaeological site and dealing in antiquities. 
There have been other recent successes in the fight against looting, this arrest comes two days after IAA enforcement officials caught three men, two from Beit Lehem (Bethlehem) and one from Kfar Nehilin, illegally digging in an archaeological site in the Valley of Elah (Ben Hartman, 'Antiquities thieves who allegedly sneaked into Israel on donkeys to face indictment', Jerusalem Post 28th October 2013). The three men were surprised by anti-antiquities theft officers backed up by Border Patrol and police officers while they had in their possession metal detectors, excavating tools, and ancient metals and relics, they denied that they had been digging for relics and stated that they were at the site gathering medicinal plants. According to the IAA , the site where they were caught includes relics from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. They had entered Israel from the West Bank "riding on donkeys through a mountainous area where the separation fence had still not been completed".

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