Tue 11-June-2024

Palestinian Minister: Israel assault on Gaza’s heritage exceeds Mongol ravages

Saturday 24-February-2024

Israel is waging a war on Palestinian narratives through the destruction and looting of museums and archaeological artefacts in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Atif Abu Seif, said.

Abu Seif pointed out in an interview with Anadolu at his office in the city of Al-Bireh in the West Bank that “the destruction and looting of cultural heritage in Gaza is similar to what happened in the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, and even more horrific than what the Mongols did in Baghdad, in an attempt to detach Palestinians from their history and land.”

The Palestinian Minister, who resides in Ramallah and is originally from Gaza, lived through the war and wrote diaries, having lost more than 130 members of his family, as he said, returned to Ramallah several weeks ago.

Unprecedented destruction
“What is happening today in Gaza, from the looting of museums and archaeological sites, and the destruction of cultural heritage, is similar to what Zionist gangs did in the city of Jaffa specifically, which was considered the Palestinian cultural center, and other cities before the Nakba in 1948,” said Abu Seif.

He added: “Perhaps what is happening in Gaza is unprecedented; it cannot be compared even to the most brutal nations, what the Mongols did, and all invaders, even what France and Britain did in Africa.”

Abu Seif noted that the Palestinian government has formed a committee chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad Al-Maliki, and includes the Ministries of Culture, Tourism and Justice to follow up on the theft of antiquities.

He added: “I have addressed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, and said these artefacts are not only ours, but they are part of the world’s memory, the Palestinian contribution from the Phoenicians, Canaanites, Romans and Greeks, which formed Palestine’s shaping of global theological and religious awareness, is being stolen and destroyed.”

The Minister continued: “We still do not know the number of stolen items but, since 7 October, Israel has destroyed and looted 12 museums; some were bombed, and some were looted.”

He said “all invaders and savages have an appreciation for beauty. Napoleon Bonaparte destroyed Gaza but, when he entered Gaza, he stayed in the Pasha’s Palace; the Israeli army came and destroyed the Palace with tanks.”

He continued, “It is incomprehensible how a tank can drive over the ancient Phoenician harbor building in the northern area of Al-Shati Refugee Camp, and a tank drives over the oldest Christian cemetery in the world, east of Jabalia, this is the world’s memory, but the world remains silent.”

Abu Seif emphasized that Israel’s assault on cultural heritage begins firstly through the looting of archaeological language and assets and, secondly, through the savage destruction of museums and libraries.

He mentioned that the Gaza Municipal Library, which is the largest Palestinian library, containing books and newspapers before the Nakba, are cultural treasures and its archive center, which constitutes its cultural, political, and social memory.

‘War on Palestinian narratives’
The Palestinian Minister of Culture emphasized that “Israel is waging a real war on Palestinian narratives,” adding: “The invaders steal what is not theirs, they steal our heritage, and if they cannot, they hide it or destroy it.”

He said: “Israel destroyed the Palestinian Costume Museum, which is the personal property of Mrs. Leila Shahin in Rafah; the oldest piece in it, is older than the age of Israel itself. 320 pieces in the Museum were destroyed.”

“What Israel is doing, it enjoys, with a planned scheme of 100 years, destroying culture, identity, narrative, attempting to detach Palestinians from their land and historical consciousness, and exiling them beyond geography,” further continued the Minister.

“They want to say that Palestinians have no connection to this place that once existed, it is a deliberate war.”

The Minister also noted: “One of the most prominent wars is the narrative, Israel is waging a war against humanity, history, and the memory of the place; part of its use is erasing its history related to our connection to the land; when it destroys the land itself, this is a deliberate cultural war and part of its wars to remove the Palestinian people and replace them.”

“Israel wants to erase the history and memory to establish a claim that they are the heirs to the country, thus, the conflict is cultural.”

He continued: “12 museums were destroyed, including the Museum (the main museum in Gaza) which contains thousands of pieces, and the Qarara Museum which contains the head of Ishtar; we do not know the fate of its contents.”

Legal battle
The Minister of Culture also stressed that his government will wage a legal war in international courts to recover the stolen items.

He said: “This war is a war and a conflict that will not be resolved in a day or two. Israel will certainly deny, and some parties in the international community will surely procrastinate. But we are determined to recover what was stolen.”

Abu Seif said, “There must be an international mission to lay hands on these artefacts, and there is also the destruction of some local museums such as the Akkad Museum and the Castle in Khan Yunis.”

He added: “No one knows the fate of those pieces, and UNESCO does not know; it is shameful that the world accepts the erasure and destruction of part of its rich memory.”

He pointed out that the government plans to work on restoring all the destroyed buildings.

“About 230 historical buildings, including mosques like the Omari Mosque and Hashem Mosque, churches, markets and historical baths, were destroyed.”

He noted that the task of restoring buildings, historical pieces, and archaeological language is difficult.

Abu Seif said: “Our mission today is to monitor and document thefts and destruction, then address international authorities; then develop plans for restoration.”

The Culture Minister added that Israel has destroyed 32 cultural centers and theatres, and thousands of paintings, while 46 writers and artists were killed, including prominent names.

-By Anadolu Agency.

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