A Jerusalem court on Thursday banned a proposed auction of drafts of the Declaration of Independence next week and ordered them to remain in Israel.
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The court issued an interim order banning the sale in response to the state's petition to stop the sale after it became known this month that early drafts of the Declaration of Independence, possibly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, were to be auctioned and could leave the country.
A public auction due on Wednesday at the Kedem Public Auction House in Jerusalem is to include several historic items, such as love letters from David Ben-Gurion to one of his mistresses and an Israeli flag taken from the illegal immigrants' ship Exodus.
The drafts were written before the declaration of the state's establishment by an employee of Israel's provisional government, Attorney Mordechai Beham, a subordinate of Israel's first justice minister Pinchas Rosen. The state wrote in its petition that Beham's two sons were putting the declaration drafts on auction.
The state said in the Jerusalem District Court Thursday that Beham was not the owner of the historic documents, nor were they his heirs' private property either. The state said nobody has a right to sell the drafts on the open market for a profit, as this infringes on the state's right to keep an asset "of deep symbolic significance" that belongs to the state and the public.
The state said the petition was intended to protect the state and public's property and "ensure Israel's inalienable assets remained in the public's hands and are not removed from the country without the government's consent.
The petition said the documents were unique and invaluable and their value was inestimable. The auction house's catalog says the opening price for the drafts was a quarter of a million dollars and that the final price was estimated at $0.5-$1 million.
The auction house writes that Beham's draft is especially important because it describes the chain of events that led to the declaration of the state's establishment.
"Beham made the initial decision – which was preserved, even if partially, in the drafts – of how to outline the Jewish and Zionist narrative, where to set its beginning and what events to mark in its course," the catalog says.
The Kedem Auction House said in response that it merely served as a "mediating agent and was not a side in the debate on the drafts' ownershipWe find it strange that the state abandoned this inalienable asset for 67 years, didn't bother to demand it, although the media and studies reported its existence several times. The state only remembered the drafts when they were put on public auction."