IAA defends refusal to restore vandalized antique ceramic tiles at King David’s Tomb

Tiles were first shattered by haredi man in 2012, and then destroyed further by vandals two weeks later.

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August 5, 2013 00:44
2 minute read.
A painting of King David's tomb from the 18th century. Artist unknown.

King David's tomb 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Israel Antiquities Authority on Sunday defended its decision not to replace vandalized Ottomanera ceramic tiles on the walls of King David’s Tomb next to the Old City’s Zion Gate in Jerusalem.

The tomb has undergone extensive restoration over the last six years overseen by the IAA, with one omission: replacement of the damaged tiles.

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According to police records, the tiles were first shattered by a 30-year-old haredi man on the night of December 19, 2012. He was arrested shortly thereafter, when police in the area heard loud smashing noises coming from the tomb.

When officers entered the building, they found the man holding an ax, hammer and a screw driver. An accomplice who was at the scene fled when police arrived, records state.

The suspect told police that he came to the tomb to pray for a “shiduch” (marriage match), and claimed that his accomplice informed him that his prayers would be answered only if he prayed directly to the stones behind the walls’ ceramic tiles.

Approximately two weeks later, vandals destroyed more of the 17th-century antique ceramic tiles, created by Ottoman-era artists in the interior of the tomb’s main room, which once served as a mosque.

The decision by the IAA not to restore the destroyed tiles on the tomb’s walls resulted in protest from a group of academics and historians, who contended that by not restoring the walls, the IAA was “rewarding” the vandals.

“Deciding not to reconstruct the tile work is first and foremost rewarding the vandals, who achieved their goal,” wrote Doron Bar, a geography and Jewish history professor at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies; Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, curator at Yad Ben Zvi Institute; Elhanan Reiner, a humanities professor at Tel Aviv University; Ora Limor, professor of history, philosophy and Judaic studies at The Open University of Israel; and Dr. Amnon Ramon, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

“It [the tomb] used to be a multicultural space despite the disagreements,” Limor told local media. “David is a powerful character and everyone wants him to himself. Each of the three [monotheistic] religions involved has its fingerprints here, and the ceramic tiles were the Muslim fingerprint. At this point, I’m really worried about the Last Supper.”

In a statement released Sunday, IAA official Yoli Schwartz made it clear that the authority worked for years to restore the tiles but cannot be held responsible for their illegal destruction at the hands of vandals.

“During the months preceding the vandalism of the Muslim tiles, [the] IAA invested thorough and ongoing preservation of these tiles,” the statement read. “However, the tiles were irreversibly damaged – therefore, the choice was either a full reconstruction of the 17th-century tiles or exposing the hewn rock walls of the original structure.”

The statement continued, “Because a full restoration is not in keeping with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s mission, the authority chose to preserve the walls instead. No attempt has been made to hide remnants of different eras.”

The statement went on to note that the tiles that were not destroyed will be prominently displayed.

“It should be emphasized that the few tiles that withstood the vandalism have been left and professionally preserved, and will continue to serve as a representation for that period,” it added.

“There is no connection between the attempt to discredit the authority and considerations of professional and scientific truth itself,” the statement concluded.


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