Ramallah: Palestine’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has urged its Israeli counterpart and the Israeli Tax Authority to return all Palestinian artefacts that were seized by occupation authorities as they were being smuggled out of the West Bank in a Norwegian diplomatic vehicle at Allenby Crossing last week.
The Israeli Tax Authority arrested Eisa Najam, a Palestinian driver for the Norwegian Embassy while on his way to Jordan in an official diplomatic vehicle with a senior Norwegian diplomat.
According to a statement from the Israeli Tax Authority, the suspect, from Beit Hanina of occupied east Jerusalem, was arrested for attempting to smuggle out at least 10 kilograms of ancient coins, statuettes and artefacts in panelling of the diplomatic vehicle.
The statement said it was not protocol to search diplomatic vehicles at Allenby Crossing which separates the occupied West Bank from Jordan, but declined to comment on why the search on the Norwegian diplomatic vehicle was performed. The authority said that investigations into the incident are still under way.
The statement of the Israeli Tax Authority said that the age and provenance of the artefacts had yet to be ascertained. The authority said that several of the coins appeared to be Hellenistic and Roman, while the statuettes appeared to be from the Canaanite to Roman periods.
A senior official from the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Gulf News that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had reported to the Israeli side the missing of huge quantities of ancient coins and descriptions of artefacts which were smuggled out of the West Bank.
Since the beginning of the first intifada in the late 1980s, Palestinian youth have been engaged in illegal excavation action by digging mountains and caves spreading around the West Bank.
“We had agreed with the Israelis to forward images of seized artefacts to the Palestinian Antiques Departments. In case the seized items were originally smuggled from the West Bank, they should be brought back to the PNA,” said the official. “Experience shows that Israel does not adhere to its agreements in line with the artefacts and always prefers to keep the seized items in its possession rather than giving them to the PNA.”
The official stressed that the PNA has been extremely tough on the illegal diggers and excavators in order to curb the illegal business in ruins and artefacts.