High Court of Justice okays transfer of ancient library to western Jerusalem

NGO claimed move ‘violates international law against transfer of archeological finds from occupied territory'.

Supreme Court of Israel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Supreme Court of Israel
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The High Court of Justice rejected a petition from a left-wing NGO to block the transfer of an ancient library from the Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem to the new, sprawling Israel Antiquities Authority headquarters being built in the western portion of the capital, it was announced Sunday.
Emek Shaveh, a consortium of European-funded archeologists and activists, petitioned the court on May 4 to prevent the pending transfer, shortly after the authority announced its intention to relocate the relics to its stateof- the art facility, which will open to the public in the coming months.
In its petition, the NGO claimed that the move “violates the international law against the transfer of archeological finds from an occupied territory.”
“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,” Emek Shaveh said in an accompanying 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.”
However, according to the authority, the move has nothing to do with politics, but rather protecting and preserving the ancient books in a new hi-tech facility being built by the authority near the Israel Museum.
“The Israel Antiquities Authority is building the National Campus for the Archeology of Israel in Jerusalem by the Israel Museum, which will include, among other things, a modern library,” the authority said in a statement.
“The IAA intends to transfer the Rockefeller Museum library books, most of which it acquired, to the new library.
Some of the books require special climatic conditions, and the new library will be able to conserve them with advanced technologies.”
On Sunday, Emek Shaveh issued a statement that on July 19, the court ruled that the IAA is responsible for antiquities at the Rockefeller Museum, and has the right to transfer the library from the museum to West Jerusalem.
“In doing so, the High Court ruled that the archeological artifacts at the Rockefeller Museum, most of which have been there since the British Mandate, are under Israeli possession, and Israel thereby has the right to take them,” the group’s spokesman, Yonatan Mizrachi, said in the statement.
“The High Court treated the artifacts in the museum as part of east Jerusalem – which is annexed to Israel, completely disregarding the fact that part of the artifacts originate in the West Bank from excavations that took place there during the British Mandate.”
Mizrachi again contended that the court violated national law “prohibiting the transfer of cultural assets from an occupied territory to the domain of the occupying power.”
Moreover, he alleged that the “symbolic significance” of the ruling is that “Israel turned its back on a vision of the museum as a multicultural site open to the general public, where knowledge of the magnificent, diverse past of the space would be preserved for anyone who was interested in researching it, or learning about it.”
Not so, said the authority.
Noting that the Rockefeller Museum does not have a proper facility to care for the rare books, and that one cannot be built there due to the age of the museum, the IAA said it has no other recourse but to make the transfer.
“The necessary conditions for keeping these books of historical importance do not exist at the Rockefeller Museum library, and cannot be applied there,” it responded in a statement.
The authority also denied Emek Shaveh’s claims that it also intends to transfer other historic relics to the new facility.
“The archeological finds stored at Rockefeller Museum’s existing structure will remain there, and there is no intention to transfer them to the archeological campus,” the IAA said.