Sunday, April 29, 2007

What Happened to the Jewish Artifacts?

Gaza's ancient treasures revealed

A new exhibition showing off the archaeological riches of the Gaza Strip has just opened in the Swiss city of Geneva. The exhibition, called "Gaza at the Crossroads of Civilisations", contains more than 500 artefacts dating back more than 5,000 years.

They reflect the diverse civilisations which at one time or another all spent time in Gaza.

"Gaza was built up by many civilisations," explained curator Marc-Andre Haldimann. "Starting from Egypt, then Mesopotamia, then Greek and Roman civilisations, Persian and Arabic, all overlapping and mixing together."

The exhibits on show in Geneva come from private collections and from the Palestinian department of antiquities.

Many have never been seen in public before; they include delicate alabaster vases, a graceful and completely undamaged Roman statue of Aphrodite, and a stunning Byzantine mosaic from the 6th Century AD.

A tour of the exhibition reveals that Gaza survived, and indeed prospered from its many civilisations. In the 5th Century AD the region had become a major trading centre, wine from Gaza was exported right across Europe, including to Geneva itself.

So, what about the jewish aspect?

Read on here:-

swissinfo: Are the Geneva exhibition and the Gaza museum project the first of their kind for the Palestinians?

Pascal de Crousaz: Ever since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994, people have been trying to promote an archaeology that can properly be called Palestinian. But as far as I know, there haven't yet been any large international exhibitions on Gaza.

Abbas' presence shows there is a political dimension to this cultural event. The Palestinians are currently cut off from the world. The exhibition is a way of seeking support from the outside.

This is not just for the archaeological museum in Gaza, but also for Palestinian aspirations in Gaza and the West Bank.

swissinfo: Have the Israelis shown the way through their archaeological research which served as a historical basis for Israel?

P.d.C.: For the Israelis it was all about providing legitimacy for their policy - the taking of land by Jewish settlers against the wishes of most of the local population.

The aim was to show the exclusive historical links between the Jewish people and Palestinian land. Archaeology was mobilised to show that Palestine was originally Jewish, that it was not Jewish in a certain period and that those who populated it during this time were foreigners on this soil.

Archaeology was meant to justify this debate by excavating every synagogue or ancient Jewish tomb as proof of land ownership, particularly in the Golan Heights and the West Bank.

There was a kind of silence over Palestine's non-Jewish history, which is nevertheless a lot larger in terms of number of objects and goes much further back in time.

swissinfo: How have the Palestinians reacted to this?

P.d.C.: Arabs and Palestinians in particular had to produce a counter-argument. A Lebanese archaeologist in the 1980s maintained that the Promised Land mentioned in Biblical texts was north of the present Saudi Arabia.

Another radical position maintained that if prior presence meant privileged rights, Palestinians would benefit because they were the descendents of the Philistines, who were in Palestine before the Jews.

In the Geneva exhibition the political line – if it is conscious – is a lot less controversial. It shows the non-Jewish heritage of a Palestine that has been Philistine, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mamluk [from the Sultanate of Egypt] and Ottoman. It is a region that is open to the world, a receiver of great civilisations.

That is relatively easy for Gaza because there are practically no traces of Jewish presence in antiquity. It would be more complicated in the West Bank where it is difficult to ignore the many traces of Jewish presence.

swissinfo: By showing the continuous population mix, are the Palestinians being less nationalistic than the Israelis?

P.d.C.: This is certainly the case for Mahmoud Abbas, but he is not alone. Some fundamentalists deny the importance of non-Muslim peoples in this region and consider that Palestine is a land that should be re-conquered and made Muslim again.

Among non-fundamentalist Palestinians you still have nationalists who deny any important position or presence of Jews in Palestine's history.

swissinfo, based on a French interview by Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

1 comment:

Suzanne Pomeranz said...

"Another radical position maintained that if prior presence meant privileged rights, Palestinians would benefit because they were the descendents of the Philistines, who were in Palestine before the Jews."

"Radical" is right - to think there are in this world, serious, educated people who actually believe this garbage!

To set the record straight one more time: 1) the Philistines arrived along the coast about the same time that Joshua & crew entered the land from the east;
2) the Philistines weren't Arab at all but were a sea people (like the Phoenicians) probably from near Greece who invaded other areas in the Mediterranean Sea and later disappeared from history;
3) the region was not called "Palestine" until the Roman emperor Hadrian gave it that name in 135CE (that's AD to you Christian readers who will now look in the back of your Bible to see a picture entitled "Palestine in the time of Christ" and wonder why the publisher lied to you);
4) remains of Jewish synagogues have been found in Gaza (reported in for instance)
5) the name "Palestine" is not legitimate anyway, since it's NOT an Arabic word at all, has no tie to Islam, and was kept alive by non-Arabic, mostly European Christian mapmakers who wanted to distance the region from the Jews and so was used by the British after WW1 probably for the same reason...

Unfortunately, most of the people who read this column probably already know this and those that don't, won't read this column... too bad since too many people are lost in a fictionalized version of history.