Gaza’s ancient treasures discovered

Officials say antiquities must remain covered, as foreigners have stolen others.

Parts of a house built for a wealthy family during the era of the Mamluk Sultanate (1250 to 1517) were discovered in the Old City of Gaza last week.
A few months before that finding, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities discovered about 1,300 gold coins on the Egyptian- Palestinian border in the southern Gaza Strip. The oldest piece dates back to around 330 BCE Jars, pots, gold and silver items and household appliances were also discovered.
More Bronze historical coins were recently discovered at a different site, Tel Rafah, set to be revealed by the ministry in the coming weeks.
The number of archeological findings has increased recently in the Gaza Strip, once a transit point for many ancient trade caravans on the way between Asia and Africa, or various civilizations across the Levant.
Beneath Gaza’s streets, the earth is so full of relics that in the past workers fixing water pipes have struck ancient ruins with their shovels while digging.
But when laborers rush to inform the authorities, so that they can preserve the valuable findings, they are shocked and saddened to find that authorities do not seem to care much for the rarities.
“Unfortunately, some contractors and citizens simply don’t care about such findings and choose to completely ignore them as if they are a disgrace, or something that wasn’t found,” explained one worker.
“Instead they advance their own interests and fear having their own interests disrupted by these findings.”
One contractor, Sa’eed Mukheymar said that he had discovered many important archeological findings through his work, but that he decided to cover them up and keep them hidden to avoid any interference in his projects. He stressed that once the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is aware of any archeological site, they immediately send a team of experts to inspect the site, coordinating with the local municipalities and the police to ensure the site is protected.
Mohammed Khella, directorgeneral of the ministry in the Gaza Strip, says that every square meter of Gaza holds an archeological site or an ancient artifact.
“The archeological sites that are discovered – if they hold any historic importance – the Palestinian government in Gaza allocates a financial budget to cover the drilling and exploration,” said Khella. “But the staff that work at the ministry is small and not enough to cover more than 40 archeological sites in Gaza, in addition to sites that are detected every little while by either normal people or construction workers.”
The ministry currently has 20 people on staff, including technical and managerial personnel.
The minister points out that there were over 370 employees allocated to the ministry under previous governments.
Khella claimed that foreign institutions which entered the Gaza Strip under previous governments stole many valuable antiquities, taking them away to be sold for millions of dollars and depriving Palestinians of their history and heritage.
On the Palestinian street, locals express their resentment at seeing the ministry cover up archeological findings, accusing the ministry of taking the easy road instead of paying compensation to those who would incur damages if the ministry turned such sites into public exhibits.
“People suffer from lack of awareness,” said Hayam al- Bitar, chief of the Museums and Exhibitions Department of the Hamas government in Gaza. “They don’t know how hard we work with such little resources to make sure these archeological findings are taken care of. We always face a challenge to help make people understand that they need to come forward and give anything they find to the ministry, instead of selling them or covering them out of fear of suffering damages or being arrested.
“We manage to overcome every obstacle to make the required studies and maintenance, so we can show these findings in local exhibitions and museums,” she added. “I also want to point out that the chemical materials needed for this process are prevented [by Israel] from entering Gaza,” Bitar said.