by Kate Fitz Gibbon
September 8, 2016 – Israel’s Antiquities Authority (IAA) has moved to close down several licensed dealers for failure to complete inventories required under new laws upheld by Israel’s High Court in January 2016. The new regulations require computerized documentation, including photographs, to be uploaded into a database which is managed by the IAA. Historically, Israel has permitted a limited trade in antiquities, in which objects found after passage of the Antiquities Law of 1978 became state property, but registered dealers were allowed to continue to sell old stock. The system was widely considered susceptible to cheating, as items were sold and replaced with other similar items in the dealers’ handwritten books. Fifty-four registered dealers, many of them of Palestinian background, operated legally in Israel.
The IAA allowed only three months from the January 2016 decision to photograph and document dealers’ inventory and upload the records. One dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nabeel al-Hroub, said he was able to upload only a third of his stock of 15,000 items before the deadline. Despite his requests for an extension of time, the IAA and border police came to his shop in July and seized 100 boxes of antiquities that the dealer valued at $100 million. He showed reporters the locked, unlighted cabinets full of antiquities remaining in his shop, all marked “Not for Sale.” His family’s license, held for more than 40 years, has been revoked.
Another licensed dealer, Rami Baidun, told Middle East Eye that he had far fewer items in inventory and was able to hire computer professionals in order to complete his inventory on time. Baidun said that the older, bigger dealers were unable to meet the current standards, but that altogether, he was in favor of the new system.
Archaeologist Morag Kersel, who has studied the Israeli market for 15 years, said her research showed that the old market was far too permeable by looted objects and therefore was really only quasi-legal. Kersel noted that a Israel’s special Holy Land status meant that the antiquities trade was unlikely to ever go away, since so many tourists and pilgrims wanted souvenirs of their visits to Israel. Dr Eitan Klein, of the IAA’s Robbery Prevention Division told Middle East Eye that in his opinion, completely eliminating the market would be undemocratic: “It is the topic of freedom of commerce and freedom of trade, so we [the IAA] need to stand with these basic rights.”
This article appeared first on August 17, 2016 on the Committee for Cultural Policy website.
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