Joe Zias on ‘Looting the Holy Land’

Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the...

Joe Zias has reviewed the documentary which I mentioned the other day and opines thusly

While I agree with many of the facts presented in the documentary it is in some ways very one sided and ignores much of what actually happened. For example:

1. We are accused of looting the West Bank and moving the artifacts to IL museums whereas from 1948 to 1967 when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule all objects excavated there under Jordan rule were not left in the West Bank but were transferred to Amman Jordan where they are until today. Israel excavations in the West Bank, aside from Jerusalem, are under control of a governmental controlled body working according to Jordan law and are housed and cataloged separately from those found in Israel. Excavated antiquities from the Sinai were all given back to the Egyptians following the peace agreement. We kept nothing which was in governmental hands.

2. While working for 25 yrs as curator at the Rockefeller museum, those few antiquities which has not been transferred to Amman were kept in a special room which was not open to the public. One day while carrying out an inventory of objects from Tel Dotan which had been excavated prior to 1967 by folks from Wheaton college I saw that there was a discrepancy between the packing lists and objects found therein. I notified those in charge along with the US excavators that many objects were missing and presumably stolen from the sealed boxes. Within a short time the excavators in the US related that shortly after the division of antiquities with the Palestine Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem, they happened to notice that many objects with their catalog nos. were already on sale in the antiquities shops in east Jerusalem, pilfered by employes in the PAM whose obligation was to protect them. A few yrs later Tel Dotan, which evidently was purchased by folks in the US for archaeological excavation was now for sale, to whom, antiquities dealers and investors who came to the RM to see what had been found there in hopes of attracting more buyers/investors and upping the price of an important historical site in the West Bank. I was the one who allowed the potential buyers to see the material as it belonged not to us, we were but caretakers of the finds.

3. There is a lot of footage on Hishams Palace in Jericho under the impression that it was looted by us and transferred to the RM post 1967, whereas it was excavated by the British during the Mandate period (1919-1948) and transferred to the Rockefeller Museum and exhibited where it is exhibited today. The RM incidentally was governed by an international body until a few months before the 1967 war when it was taken over by the Jordanian government. Non-muslims there in charge were replaced by Moslems and there was never in the history of the RM, opened in the 1930’s, any Islamic archaeologist.

4. The segment whereby they show the IL guide talking about excavations along the Western Wall speaks as if its being underneath the Al Aqsa mosque, is a cheap shot as it is nowhere near the mosque nor is it under the mount itself but runs parallel to it and totally outside the mount.

5. The segment whereby the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to throughly search the area between Jericho and Qumran which was being given back to the Palestinians is unfortunately accurate and aside from myself, who personally refused to cooperate in such an endeavor, all my colleagues cooperated. The director was not happy with my refusal. This ‘militarily run’ operation cost the IL taxpayer an enormous amount of money and aside from one find, the so called ‘Cave of the Warrior’ produced nothing. The caves had all been looted yrs earlier by local Palestinians looking for more Dead Sea Scrolls. It was a total waste of money and an affront to the Palestinians.

Joe Zias

Science and Antiquity Group – Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel