Sands, not lights, cover Gaza archaeology sites

Archaeology on hold in Strip; "The only way to preserve what we discover is to bury it until proper tools are available," tourism expert says.

By REUTERS
April 14, 2011 20:41
1 minute read.
UNRWA summer camp in Gaza

UNRWA summer camp in Gaza 311 (R). (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)

Five thousand years of fascinating history lie beneath the sands of the Gaza Strip, from blinded biblical hero Samson to British general Allenby.

The flat, sandy lands on the Mediterranean's southeastern shore have been ruled by Ancient Egyptians, Philistines, Romans, Byzantines and Crusaders.

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Alexander the Great besieged the city. Emperor Hadrian visited. Mongols raided Gaza, and 1,400 years ago Islamic armies invaded. Gaza has been part of the Ottoman Empire, a camp for Napoleon and a First World War battleground.

But archaeology here does not flourish.

"The only way to preserve what we discover is to bury it until the proper tools are available," says Hassan Abu Halabyea of the Gaza ministry of Tourism and Archaeology.

"We lack the capability, the support and the proper materials needed to maintain this historical site or that. We bury it to preserve it from destruction," he says.

Waleed Al-Aqqad is an amateur archaeologist who has turned his house into a museum of ancient artifacts, cramming his rooms with old weapons and a collection of clay jars centuries old.

"This is a clay-made oil-fuelled lighting tool that goes back to the Greek era of 93 A.D. This is another that was made during the Roman time in 293 A.D," he says.

"This is a spear from the Ottoman times," he beams.

Marble plaques, swords and coins decorate the walls and the courtyard of his home in Khan Younis, adorned with the sign: "Welcome to Aqqad's Cultural Museum".

The 54-year-old Palestinian has spent 30 years searching and digging, sometimes in risky areas near the fortified Israeli border.

His antiquities display symbols of the Christian and Muslim civilizations that have marked the territory over 2,000 years, recovered from the sites of ancient churches and cemeteries.

"I undertook this work in order to preserve Palestinian history. I wanted to salvage it from being wasted or falsified. I tried to save whatever can be saved," explains Aqqad, displaying a rusty cannon he says he hid from Israeli troops.


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