WEST BANK (Dispatches) – Thousands of stolen archaeological artifacts — including gold coins, bronze statues and Egyptian sarcophagi — have been recovered in the Israeli-occupied territories in a coordinated set of raids.
The artifacts aren’t just from sites in ancient Palestine; they come from across the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa and even South America. So far, investigators haven’t even quantified everything they’ve recovered.
"We haven’t counted them yet,” Amir Ganor, head of the theft prevention unit, told Haaretz.
The raids came after a months-long investigation into the illegal antiquities trade, according to Haaretz. The stolen artifacts were hidden in storage rooms in private homes. The antiques market in the occupied territories is prone to being infiltrated by blackmarket items; according to Ganor, it is one of the few spots around the Mediterranean where dealers can obtain a license to sell antiquities. Unscrupulous thieves and dealers can thus launder stolen artifacts through licensed dealerships, effectively erasing their illegal origins. From there, the stolen items can enter the international antiquities market.
Some of the stolen artifacts were museum-quality, according to the report.
The report comes as the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq is suffering collateral damage from years of war and deliberate assaults from Daesh and other foreign-sponsored terrorist groups.
Back in April 2019, Washington-based analyst Ahed al-Hendi pointed to the damage Daesh has inflicted on religious and archaeological sites in Syria, saying most of the stolen Christian artifacts were sold outside the war-ravaged Arab country.
"There were businessmen and mafia lords who would pay Daesh and other terrorist groups millions of dollars to buy those stolen relics,” he said at the time.
Al-Hendi added that at some point during the conflict, the Syria-Turkey border was largely porous, "which allowed Daesh to smuggle out as many artifacts as they could take from churches in areas under their control.”