Left-wing NGO petitions High Court over Rockefeller Museum artifacts transfer

East Jerusalem museum’s library and relics to be relocated to Antiquities Authority’s West Jerusalem offices.

May 4, 2016 19:48
2 minute read.
Artist Ilana Goor

Artist Ilana Goor has curated an eclectic collection in Jaffa from ancient artifacts to video installations. (photo credit: CARL HOFFMAN)


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Emek Shaveh, a left-wing NGO that aims protect ancient sites as a public asset, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to prevent the pending transfer of east Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum’s archeological library and artifacts to the Antiquities Authority in the western portion of the capital.

The petition was filed shortly after the authority announced it intends to make the move.

According to Emek Shaveh, a consortium of European-funded archeologists and activists, the Antiquities Authority has been transferring many archeological finds from the museum’s storage rooms over the past decade.

“The Rockefeller Museum was founded by the British as an international antiquities museum and served as a meeting place for Israeli, Palestinian, and international scholars and visitors,” the NGO said in a statement.

“Its location in east Jerusalem is symbolic and practical – enabling research and cultural dialogue, and representing the notion that the land’s antiquities belong to everyone.

The transfer of archeological finds and the Rockefeller library to west Jerusalem is part of the Israeli trend of establishing facts on the ground regarding politically controversial issues.”

Emek Shaveh claims its petition is the first filed in a case where Israel is “violating the international law against the transfer of archeological finds from an occupied territory.”

Rockefeller Museum was built in 1938 during the British Mandate, and was the major museum of antiquities in the country at that time. It was built with a contribution of John D. Rockefeller, who also allocated a million dollars for its operation.

The museum complex includes exhibition halls, storage rooms for archeological artifacts, and a valuable library with books dating to the 16th century, including rare manuscripts of pilgrims and scholars of the country.

During Jordanian rule in east Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, no new books were added to the library. However, since the 1967 War, Israel turned it once again into a substantial archeological library, and today it contains almost all reports on archeological finds in Israel and the region.

The museum also holds many important archeological finds from the Jerusalem region and elsewhere in Israel. Among them are ancient human bones excavated from caves in Carmel in the North; a collection of gold jewelry discovered in Tel al-‘Ajjul and Beit Shemesh; an ivory treasure from Megiddo; the Lachish Letters; stucco reliefs from the Umayyad palace in Khirbat al-Mafjar near Jericho; and carved stone lintels from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dating to the Crusader period.

The museum maintained its international status until 1966, when the Jordanian government decided to nationalize it. After the 1967 war, Israel took over its management, and the Antiquities Authority’s offices were housed there. Its archeological artifacts, library, and the displays remained in place until the beginning of the 21st century.

“In the last decade, the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] began transferring archeological finds out of the museum’s storage rooms,” Emek Shaveh said. “Over the course of the coming year, it plans to transfer the entire library to the IAA’s new offices in west Jerusalem.”

A representative for the Antiquities Authority could not be reached for comment.

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