A Jerusalem antiquities dealer says he is a victim of the Egyptian authorities’ desire to demonstrate their efforts to repatriate artifacts taken out of their country, and accuses the Israel Antiquities Authority of cooperating with Cairo against him.
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Last November, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry asked the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to open an investigation and impound Egyptian antiquities found in the possession of Maher Aweida, a well-known, long-time antiquities dealer in Jerusalem.
Aweida claims the Egyptians saw the items on his shop’s website. Shortly afterward, IAA inspectors came to the shop – on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City – and asked him to hand over 90 artifacts, including bronze and stone figures, clay vessels and cultic figurines, originating in ancient Egypt. Aweida delivered the items into the hands of the agency for research. He notes, however, that the items appear in his catalog, itself certified by the IAA repeatedly over the years, as having been purchased legally from licensed dealers.
Some of the items have been known to the agency for several years; others were issued export permits allowing them to be removed from Israel. Nevertheless, the IAA seized the items and launched an investigation into Aweida, who further argues that he suffered economic damage as a result of media reports of the affair.
“I expected the antiquities authority, which knows me and my catalog and gave me a license, to protect me from the claims of the Egyptians, but instead they joined with them, against me,” Aweida said.
“I’m a victim of politics,” he added. “The Egyptians want to show they’re collecting all the Egyptian antiquities, and are working in particular vis-à-vis Israel. In Egypt, there is a prohibition against trading antiquities, but I’m in Israel, not Egypt.”
“Because Israel wants to show that it’s cooperating with the Egyptians, Aweida’s blood is being spilled,” says attorney Jonah De Levie, who is representing Aweida. “It is published that he is a thief and a trader in stolen goods, even though all the items are legal and registered.”
In a statement, the Israel Antiquities Authority said it was holding the items “as part of an investigation of the matter of Aweida. The investigation was initiated at the request of the Egyptian authorities, on the suspicion of antiquities theft and unlawful removal from Egypt. The case file has been transferred to the prosecution, and if the suspicions are proved, charges will be filed against [Aweida]. The IAA is coordinating its handling of the matter with the Foreign Ministry.”