Friday, 1 January 2016

The Beginning of the End for Illicit Antiquities: Why the Israeli Ruling will Effect a Cleansing of the Market

"On the one hand, the regulations will allow
law abiding antiquities dealers to continue normal
trading in accordance with the regulations, while on the other,
it will greatly help in combating the illegal trafficking in antiquities".
Amir Ganor, head of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

In Israel a court has issued the Antiquities Authority effective tools for the enforcement and protection of existing antiquities laws. As we know, Israeli dealers have fought these new regulations cleaning up the market. Gil Ronen ('Revolutionary court victory against antiquity thieves', Arutz Sheva 29th December 2015), tries to ascertain one reason why this might be the case:

Antiquities and souvenirs on sale
 in Jerusalem IAA, Yoli Shwartz
At the crux of the regulations is the Antiquities Authority’s directive requiring antiquities dealers operating in Israel to report the commercial inventory in their possession through an online inventory management program. Every ancient artifact will receive an individual identification number and will be identified in a clear and unequivocal manner by means of an attached picture. The computer program will allow supervision of the commercial antiquities inventory in Israel, and will automatically execute inventory transfers between dealers. It will remove from the inventory lists items that are sold to the public or granted an export license, and every antiquity and object will be issued a commercial identity number. These regulations are intended to replace previous regulations from 1983, by which reporting was done manually, which is no longer relevant for the antiquities market.
This seems like a good idea, to all, it seems, apart from the dealers who are thereby required to introduce transparency and accountability into their activities: 
According to Amir Ganor, head of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The antiquities dealers in Israel, numbering less than seventy licensed merchants, have for many years possessed a commercial antiquities inventory which – according to their declarations – they supposedly acquired prior to 1978. But lo and behold, according to the old records, the commercial inventory currently retained by the traders has hardly changed between 1978 and today, thirty-seven years later. This has occurred despite the fact that every year those very same merchants sell at least 45,000 ancient items in Israel, which they send abroad with an export license”. Moreover, in the ensuing years since 1978, hundreds of antiquities sites in Israel have been damaged by antiquities robbers who search for ancient artifacts which they intend to sell and profit from. [...] Ganor states that the previous method of recording was conducted manually, thereby allowing countless manipulations in the registration – switching between items that were listed in the commercial inventory that originated prior to 1978 with items that were plundered in recent years from antiquities sites, which by law are the property of the state. This has taken place in the absence of any picture or drawing of each and every item whose identity marks are unique only to it.
This is more than a move to "exercise control" over the market, as one lobbyist insists on depicting it. There is a very clear practical reason for this tightening of the existing regulations.
According to estimates by Antiquities Authority experts, thousands of ancient objects robbed and looted from antiquities sites throughout the country find their way every year to the commercial antiquities markets in Israel and abroad. The Antiquities Authority is hoping that the new inventory management regulations will help to reduce the phenomenon of plundering antiquities at the country’s ancient sites because the regulations, along with increased enforcement, will make it difficult for antiquities dealers to take items that did not originally have legal provenance, and add them to their commercial inventory. [...] Antiquities robbers and the unlicensed antiquities dealers who are their go-betweens will very quickly come to understand that they have no one to sell the stolen antiquities to, and in the absence of demand the plundering of antiquities in Israel will be greatly reduced.
In other words, the commercial inventory number is as good a guarantee as buyers will get that the object is of 'licit' provenance. It is high time for the antiquities markets in other countries to introduce such a system allowing the entry of objects into and passage through, the market to be followed. This is a model other countries should now follow.

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