Civil Administration’s Clandestine Operation Follows Settler Complaints it is not Doing Enough to Protect Antiquities
Early on Monday, the Civil Administration entered the Palestinian village of Tuqu’ near Bethlehem and took a Byzantine-era baptismal font from near the mayor’s house which is in area B of the West Bank. The font was probably part of an elaborate church discovered in the ancient mound of Teqoa which abuts the village, but is in area C, and was apparently stolen in 2000 by antiquity thieves. It was eventually retrieved by the village of Tuqu’.
According to the Oslo Accords, archaeological finds in areas A and B fall under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. The fact that the find originates in Area C has given the CA cause to claim that it has simply retrieved a stolen find. However, according to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the occupying power must safeguard archaeological heritage for the benefit of the occupied people and any archaeological activity must be coordinated with the national authorities of the occupied country. Hence, any operation by the CA’s Staff Officer for Archaeology in Tuqu’ should have been done in liason with the local authority.
Emek Shaveh regards Tel Teqoa as an integral part of local heritage of the village of Tuqu’. The font was safeguarded by Palestinian professionals and was accessible to the villagers and to tourists wishing to visit the find. The municipality was planning to place the find in a museum which would display the heritage and archaeological discoveries from the area.
This operation follows on the heels of increased complaints by the settlers that the Civil Administration is not doing enough to prevent what they claim is systematic and ideologically driven antiquities theft. The settlers have been claiming that traces of a Jewish past in the area are being destroyed and that all antiquities sites should be placed under Israeli control.
Emek Shaveh and the Mayor of Tuqu’ have written to the Civil Administration with a demand to return the antiquity to the village and its residents. The Civil Administration is responsible for the protecting the interests and welfare of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and is not meant to act as an agent on behalf of the settlers who believe they should be the sole custodians of the areas’ antiquities.