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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The case of the Mysterious 'Disappearance' of 2 BC Apollo statue in Gaza

The case of the Mysterious 'Disappearance' of 2 BC Apollo statue in Gaza.HT: Conflictantiquities

La Repubblica‘s Fabio Scuto (@scutof) has reported (in English and Italian) on the Apollo of Gaza, which may be sold illicitly in order to fund the activities of Hamas. (I learned of this via @keftiugal.) It raises quite a few serious issues – the ethics of selling antiquities to fund (state) activities, the ethics of buying antiquities to prevent their disappearance onto the black market, the practicalities of protecting the cultural heritage of an unrecognised state [and what has actually happened]…

RAMALLAH - It's a full moon night in mid-September, Mounir puts water in his small boat fisherman in the beach in front of Deir al-Balah town in the middle of the Gaza Strip . But that night in his seine, a net fishing two hundred meters long, something gets caught just a few meters from the shore. flickers, illuminated by the moon, the arm of a wonderful life-size statue of Apollo , which shines to the point of seeming gold. Aided by his sons, Mounir somehow frees from the sand that has protected for twenty-three centuries , the charge on his rowing boat and hides it in his house, lost in the termite mound of dirt roads and buildings where the city and refugee camp is now knead in the same urban tragedy. Apollo is shown to a relative, but no one is able to tell if it's gold as the hopes fisherman. They can be seventy or eighty pounds of gold in the desperate reality of Gaza multiply its value. But no one can go around the Strip with a statue of the Hellenistic period in the trunk. At the statue that is (was) in perfect condition, is Bell'O better to cut off a finger, you can show to any connoisseur to make it to assess the purity and quality. Mounir dreams of breaking quickly, the finger shown in "around" turns bronze , the statue has "only" an extraordinary archaeological value as many artifacts that crop up here and there in the Strip.

As the JPost points out: "It's very, very rare to find a statue which is not in marble or in stone, but in metal," he said, adding that the apparent pristine condition of the statue suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, as claimed.

Selling antiquities to fund state(Terrorist) activities

Hamas heard about the find, arrested Mounir and confiscated the statue; but because Apollo is iconic and nude, he is un-Islamic and immodest, and therefore undisplayable. Unable to display the statue, unable to pay its own workers because it can no longer raise funds by smuggling or taxing the smuggling of goods (including antiquities) through the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt [since 80%+ of the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza have been destroyed], Hamas has decided to sell the statue on the black market in order to fund its administration.

A ‘well[-]know[n] [i]nternational “mediator [dealer]“‘ is approaching buyers (including an unnamed ‘major American museum’) on behalf of Hamas. As Christopher Jones (@cwjones89) observed, ‘here’s an artifact ethics doozy: Can an American museum buy a bronze statue of Apollo from [US-categorised terrorist organisation] Hamas?’ It’s an especially interesting dilemma because Hamas is also an elected government with a civilian administration that provides social services such as healthcare and welfare.

Jones (probably correctly) expects that the statue will end up ‘on the illicit antiquities market since no one can send a US/EU designated terrorist org $20mil legally…. (Please note I’m not advocating paying Hamas for this statue. No statue is worth what Hamas would probably do with $20mil).’

In fact, about ‘90 percent‘ of Hamas’s spending is on ‘social, welfare, cultural and educational activities’, so it would probably spend any income from the Apollo on that. I would be wary of an international institution purchasing the statue because it would legitimate and incentivise antiquities dealing as a way of raising funds.

Protecting and recovering the cultural property of an unrecognised state

Ignoring those issues, how should the people of Gaza protect or recover their cultural heritage from the illicit antiquities market? The Palestinian antiquities department is trying to rescue the statue for the partially-recognised State of Palestine. Yet, as noted by the Director-General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, even if the statue (re)surfaces on the international art market, it will be impossible to recover through law enforcement, because Palestine has ‘not yet been allowed’ to become a member of Interpol. Director-General Hamdan Taha implores,

The only way to save Gaza’s Apollo is to tell its story, to let its images circulate, so that nobody can say, “I didn’t know where it came from”.

Hmmm.....Wanted 'Nude Bronze Apollo', last seen in GAZA?

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