Herod Show in Israel Provokes Anger ; Huge Exhibition Uses Artifacts and Material from Disputed West Bank

By Rudoren, Jodi | International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Herod Show in Israel Provokes Anger ; Huge Exhibition Uses Artifacts and Material from Disputed West Bank


Rudoren, Jodi, International Herald Tribune


The ambitious archaeological exhibition devoted to Herod, the lionized and demonized Rome-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.E., has drawn anger from the Palestinian Authority.

CORRECTION APPENDED

In one room sits a sarcophagus of reddish-pink limestone believed to have held the body of King Herod, painstakingly reconstructed after having been smashed to bits centuries ago. In another, there are frescoes from Herod's elaborate underground palace, pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. Throughout, elaborate animated videos show the king's audacious construction -- atop the desert fortress Masada and at his burial place, Herodium -- as well as his most famous work, the Second Temple of Jerusalem.

The Israel Museum on Tuesday opened its most ambitious archaeological exhibition and the world's first devoted to Herod, the lionized and demonized Rome-appointed king of Judea, who reigned from 37 to 4 B.C.E. and is among the most seminal and contentious figures in Jewish history. But the exhibition, which the museum director described as a "massive enterprise" that involved sifting through 30 tons of material from Herodium and reconstructing 250 artifacts, has also brought its own bit of controversy.

The Palestinian Authority says the exhibition is a violation of international law because much of its material was taken from near Bethlehem and Jericho, both in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. An Israeli group of archaeologists and activists complains that the museum, however unwittingly, is helping the Jewish settlement movement advance its contention that the West Bank should be part of Israel and not a Palestinian state.

"What the Israel Museum is doing is like coming and saying, 'Listen, the heritage of the West Bank is part of our heritage first of all,"' said Yonathan Mizrachi, an archaeologist who helped found the Israeli group, Emek Shaveh, in 2009. "It's part of the idea to create the narrative that those sites, no matter what the political solution," are "part of the Israeli identity."

James S. Snyder, the director of the museum, dismissed such criticism as propaganda and political opportunism, saying the Oslo Accords signed by the Israelis and Palestinians in the 1990s give Israel responsibility for antiquities in the West Bank until a final- status arrangement is in place. The accords call for the two sides to work together to protect archaeological sites and allow for excavation, with a gradual transfer of control to the Palestinians.

Mr. Snyder said all the material taken from Palestinian territory would be returned if the conflict could be resolved and an appropriate place to keep it was created. He noted that the museum had spent a "huge" sum -- he would not specify how much -- to restore and make available for public consumption artifacts that might otherwise have been lost, like many of the antiquities in Iraq and Egypt.

"We're not about geopolitics, we're not about minefields; we're about trying to do the best and the right thing for the long term for material cultural heritage," Mr. Snyder said. "Our goal was to invest in the preservation of this material and return it to the sites. …

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