Palestine, Israel In Controversy Over King Herod’s Tomb

PalestineAn upcoming exhibit is causing friction between Palestinians and Israelis, the Associated Press reports.

On February 13, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem will open “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.” It will be the first exhibition dedicated to the architectural legacy of the infamous Jewish king, who ruled as a vassal of the Roman Empire from 37-4 B.C.

Best known for the Biblical story of his killing the male children of Bethlehem to try to get rid of the baby Jesus, he was also one of the region’s great builders, expanding the Second Temple and erecting many other monuments.

The exhibition will display remains from his many building projects. The centerpiece will be his recently discovered tomb, shown here, and what may be his sarcophagus, painstakingly reconstructed from hundreds of shattered pieces. Archaeologists believe it was destroyed by Jews to show their hatred of Herod.

Almost all the artifacts are from the West Bank, part of Palestine, and here is where the problem lies. Palestinian Authority officials say they weren’t consulted about the exhibit and that excavating and removing artifacts from Palestine without their permission breaks international antiquities laws. The Israel Museum denies this and says they have authority over the artifacts. They also say the material will be returned to the West Bank after the exhibition closes October 5.

In this part of the world, history frequently gets enmeshed in politics, with both sides trying to claim the land by historical precedent.

The BBC has an interesting article on the troubles archaeologists face in Gaza. Besides a shortage of funding, sanctions keep them from getting many of the materials needed for excavation and conservation. War has also taken its toll, with Israeli bombs hitting the antiquities office and also damaging an early medieval mosaic in a Byzantine Church.

[Photo of Herod’s tomb courtesy Deror Avi]

Museums and politics in the West Bank

West BankA new bill working its way through the Israeli government would put museums on Israeli settlements in the West Bank under Israeli law.

This piece of legislation is more than it seems, the Jerusalem Post reports. The real purpose of the bill, as its author, minister Uri Ariel of the National Union party makes clear, is to slowly annex the West Bank.

If this bill passes, Ariel hopes it will open the door for more Israeli law to be applied to the West Bank, gradually incorporating it into the rest of the country.

Currently museums on West Bank settlements are under military law, a product of the region being taken from Jordan in the 1967 war, and thus cannot get the same kind of funding as other Israeli museums.

The West Bank and Gaza strip are nominally part of the Palestinian Authority, but this government has had trouble receiving full international recognition and much of its land is actually owned by Israelis. Palestinians are barred from or have limited access to much of the West Bank because of Israeli settlements and their security zones, as this UN map shows.

The Knesset (Israeli parliament) education Committee has already passed the bill and it will probably be seen by the entire Knesset in the next two weeks.

I visited some West Bank museums when I was working as an archaeologist in the region in the early Nineties. The Israeli ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Muslim atrocities. The Palestinian ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Jewish atrocities.

In a country like Israel, history and politics always go hand in hand.

American-Muslim group urges Palestinians to visit Holocaust Museum

Holocaust, holocaust
The Islamic Society of North America is defying Hamas and urging Palestinian youths to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jewish news service JTA reports.

A group of A-students from the Gaza Strip are to visit the nation’s capital on a UN-sponsored educational visit. Their tour is to include the Holocaust Museum, but Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has criticized the plan. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian children suffer enough persecution and can’t deal with learning about other people’s suffering.

That prompted the Islamic Society of North America to make a public statement endorsing the plan, saying they’ve taken Muslims there before and that it has had a positive effect on Muslim-Jewish relations.

I’ve never seen this museum, but I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Although I went nearly twenty years ago, I have a very clear memory of speaking to a German student who I met there. Her reason for going? “I feel it’s my responsibility as a German.” She became a friend, and although she often criticizes Israel’s policies, she’s fully aware of what happened in the biggest crime of the twentieth century.

Who knows? Perhaps this will encourage Jewish-American children to visit Palestinian high schools, or Iranian and American kids to set up an exchange program, or North and South Korea to create a communal youth group.

Hmmm. . .is that too much to hope for this holiday season?

[Image courtesy user AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons]

Museum Junkie: Museum of the Good Samaritan opens in Israel

One of the world’s largest mosaic museums recently opened in Israel.

The Museum of the Good Samaritan displays artifacts from the many cultures that lived in the region. The main attractions are the intricate mosaics found in synagogues in the West Bank and Gaza.

The museum is located on the highway between Jerusalem and Jericho near the ancient town of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank, believed to be the site of the inn where the parable of the Good Samaritan took place. According to the story, told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37) a man is beaten up by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. Nobody will help him but a Samaritan, a member of a rival Jewish sect that was persecuted in ancient times. His act of mercy has become synonymous with the kindness of strangers and the ability of goodness to reach across social boundaries.

This being Israel, history is politics, and officials were quick to put a spin on the museum’s opening. In an article in the Jerusalem Post, Knesset Speaker Reuvlen Rivlin said the museum underscores Israel’s historic ties to the West Bank and Gaza and its devotion to keeping a presence in them. The Knesset is the Israeli parliament, and Rivlin is one of the most powerful members of the ruling Likud party, so his words carry significant political weight.

Some of the mosaics come from Samaritan synagogues, offering a rare look at a faith that few people know still exists.

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