The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) drew criticism online on Sunday, January 21, after its Director-General Eli Eskozido posted an Instagram story depicting Israeli soldiers onsite at a storeroom in Gaza filled with apparent antiquities, as well as a photo of a small display of cultural objects in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).
Screen recordings and screenshots of Eskozido’s Instagram story at the warehouse began circulating on Instagram and X, prompting outrage as Israeli forces continue to decimate the region. Israeli airstrikes have killed over 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack on October 7.
Emek Shaveh, a Jerusalem-based, non-governmental organization comprised of archaeologists and activists who “focus on the role of archaeology in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” shared documentation of Eskozido’s posts in a thread on X, lambasting the IAA director for captioning it as a “discovery” amid the “context of a war that has so far resulted in the destruction of hundreds of historical and archaeological sites and artifacts.”
“[Eskozido] should have known better than to share a video like this,” Emek Shaveh’s Executive Director Alon Arad said in an interview with Hyperallergic.
“His first priority should have been to get all the soldiers out of the warehouse to make sure that no one had taken anything, and then there should have been a specific statement released through the Authority about the incident,” Arad continued. “There is very little information about their motivations aside from their clarification to us that the site is protected now. We still don’t even know why the army was there.”
French Archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert, head of Anthropology at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française (EBAF) in Jerusalem, confirmed in an email to Hyperallergic that the storeroom has been used by the school for storage and documentation since 1995 and that it is under the administrative supervision of the Palestinian Antiquities Office. He could not verify whether Eskozido’s photo of the antiquities display in the Knesset consisted of objects excavated during archaeological digs conducted by the school, but hypothesized that they were perhaps taken from the Qasr Al-Basha Museum in Gaza City, which exhibited some of the École’s excavated artifacts and was severely damaged by an Israeli airstrike in December. Humbert also said that the IAA told him that the storeroom was left as it was found, but was no longer secure as one of its walls had collapsed.
Little information provided by the IAA and no foreign press access make it difficult to confirm the facts. The IAA has not responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, but a spokesperson for the group told the Israeli website Walla that an archaeologist conducted an “initial examination” onsite and that “the items were left in place.”
Within the X thread, Emek Shaveh underscored that Israel is not allowed to appropriate or export cultural property from Palestine as outlined by International Humanitarian Law, per the 1954 Hague Convention as well as the 1970 UNESCO convention. In response, the IAA said in a statement to Shaveh that the Israeli military contacted the authority after coming across the antiquities repository in Gaza and that the artifacts remain under military watch.
Arad acknowledged the importance of cultural heritage and property in addition to the ongoing violence, displacement, starvation, and murder of Gaza’s civilians.
“When you have such a huge humanitarian crisis and when the destruction of civil infrastructure is so massive, obviously that leaves the cultural properties in a very low priority,” he noted.
“But when it becomes time for Gaza to rebuild its society, cities, and homes, as it will eventually —and as we have seen in the aftermath of World War II — having a past that is full of blank spaces yields instability or disturbances throughout the process of rebuilding,” Arad continued.
Israeli airstrikes have targeted dozens if not hundreds of cultural heritage sites across the Gaza Strip, destroying or damaging universities; museums; religious structures including the Great Omari Mosque and the Church of St. Porphyrius; historical palaces; libraries; archives; and various archaeological sites. A February 1 report from Librarians and Archivists With Palestine (LAP) documenting the loss and destruction of cultural property identified over 20 educational and archival centers that have been reported on in the media as well as the names of martyred Palestinian culture workers, stressing that the list is “necessarily incomplete.”
“Current conditions in Gaza, such as the targeting of journalists, frequent communication blackouts, and extensive damage to the built environment pose an immediate threat to safety,” the report notes. “Moreover, archivists and librarians have been repeatedly displaced, injured, or killed, making it even more difficult to take stock of the damage to cultural heritage.”
The LAP report also cited previous examples of Israel having looted or destroyed Palestinian cultural property, including the appropriation of some 30,000 pieces of literature taken from Palestinian homes during the 1948 Nakba, and in 1982, the documented confiscation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization research center’s entire archive and some printing materials in West Beirut, Lebanon, among other instances.
Arad said that these tactics are part of the far-right Israeli government’s game plan, outlining that “if the Palestinian people don’t have their roots here, obviously they don’t belong here … And how can you destroy a nation without a history?”
“The thing with archaeology is that we actually discover how material culture always manages to prevail in a way,” Arad expressed. “The attempt to erase history will almost always fail, because people always leave a trace.”