Private Museums Store Gaza’s Artifacts

23 August, 2019

At Walid al-Aqqad's home in Gaza, hundreds of ancient pots and other objects hang on the walls. In his backyard, pieces of Corinthian columns are on show.

These works represent five thousand years of Gaza's history.

A small piece of land on the Mediterranean, Gaza was a major trade path between Egypt and the Levant.

But years of uprisings, war and political problems have hurt examples of its rich archaeological history.

In this July 17, 2019 photo, a Palestinian looks at ancient artifacts displayed inside the Shahwan private museum in the basement of a building, in Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip.
In this July 17, 2019 photo, a Palestinian looks at ancient artifacts displayed inside the Shahwan private museum in the basement of a building, in Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip.

Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. In answer, Egypt and Israel ordered a blockade on Gaza.

The Palestinians say the closures have also restricted excavations, limiting new discoveries.

Hamas has done little to protect Gaza's ancient works and in some cases has destroyed them. In 2017, Hamas leaders destroyed large parts of Tel Es-Sakan, the remains of a 4,500-year-old Bronze Age city, to make way for building projects.

Ayman Hassouna is professor of history and archaeology at Gaza's Islamic University. Hassouna blamed Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas equally for not protecting the territory's cultural history.

He says Israel has seized objects from archaeological digs and did little to prevent sales of important ancient pieces.

Palestinian leaders of Gaza since 1995 have "attacked many archaeological sites — either intentionally or not," he said.

He also blamed a lack of awareness among Gazans of the importance of keeping ancient objects and sites untouched.

"When they find something, they [people in Gaza] would hide it or build over it," he said.

Heyam al-Bitar is an archaeologist with Gaza's ministry of tourism and antiquities. She said trafficking of ancient goods is a problem. She added the ministry only learned earlier this year that many ancient Greek silver coins were stolen from Gaza in 2016.

"It's difficult to track down the trafficking because everything happens in the dark," she said.

Al-Aqqad is one of the few people trying to save such objects in Gaza. He began his collection in 1975, buying from collectors or searching the coast and new construction sites. Now his house in the southern city of Khan Younis is a museum, welcoming school children and other students of history.

"This museum was established by personal efforts and at the expense of my children's bread," al-Aqqad said.

His is one of five legally registered private collections in the Gaza Strip, according to the ministry of tourism.

The ministry keeps a record of all private collections to prevent objects from being sold or removed from Gaza, said al-Bitar.

Owners have received training from the ministry and the Islamic University on how to care for and repair ancient works, she added.

I'm John Russell.

Fares Akram and Khalil Hamra reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

pot – n. a container that is used for storing or holding something

column – n. a long post made of steel, stone, etc., that is used as a support in a building

archaeology – n. a science that deals with past human life and activities by studying the bones, tools, etc., of ancient people

intentionally – adv. done in a way that is planned or intended

tourism – n. the activity of traveling to a place for pleasure

museum – n. a building in which interesting and valuable things (such as paintings and sculptures or scientific or historical objects) are collected and shown to the public

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