Israeli forces remove 6th-century baptismal font from Palestinian town

06:00 Jul 20 2020 Teqoa (Taqqou', Tuqu')

Scene. Source: Palestinian International Broadcast Published by IMEMC News

The Byzantine baptismal font, described by Guérin in 1863, photographed in 1940. Source: Wikipedia

Archbishop Atallah Hanna. Published by IMEMC NEws

Video by Oday Daibes/WAFA

PLO Member Condemns Israel’s Theft of 1600 Year old Religious Artifact

by IMEMC News
July 22, 2020 6:20 AM

Executive Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official condemned, on Monday, the Israeli expropriation of an ancient baptismal font, from Teqoua’ town, southeast of Bethlehem city, the Palestinian WAFA News Agency reported.

“Israel’s theft of a baptismal font dating back to the Byzantine era from Bethlehem, overnight Sunday, is an abominable act of thuggery and cultural appropriation,”

– Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, in a press release, on Monday

She appealed to the international community, in particular the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to hold Israel accountable for its theft of Palestinian heritage.

The rare stone-made, baptismal font, according to the Palestine International Broadcast, dates back to the fifth or sixth century A.D., and was stolen from Teqoua’ town, in the southern occupied West Bank.

A documentary prepared by Jerusalem’s Christian Media Center reveals that the rosy font, weighing approximately eight tons, was part of a local Byzantine-era church in the ancient town of Teqoua’.

“Israel continues to use its position as the administrator of archaeological sites in the West Bank as a means to deepen its control over West Bank land, to expand the settlement enterprise, and extend the policy of dispossession of Palestinians from their lands and cultural assets. Although the takeover of land through archaeology is not the main method of achieving Israeli control over land, it is significant because of its symbolic aspects and impact on public awareness.”

– Israeli Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Emek Shaveh

Video by Oday Daibes/WAFA

IDF returns 5th century stolen baptismal font to original site in Tekoa

COGAT Archaeological Unit says the artifact was stolen by antiquity looters some 20 years ago; Palestinian official accuses Israel of theft.

JULY 20, 2020 20:28

A fifth century baptismal font that was stolen from its original site by antiquity looters has been located and returned by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT announced on Monday. However, the reconstruction of the circumstances was denied by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which accused Israel of theft.

According to COGAT’s release, the artifact, which dates back to the Byzantine period, was looted about 20 years ago from the Tel Tekoa archaeological site in the West Bank. It is about 1.5 meters high and is shaped as an octagon and decorated with a cross and a stylized garland.

The operation to recover the relic was carried out early Monday morning by COGAT’s Archaeological Unit, together with the Bethlehem District Coordination and Liaison Office and the cooperation of the Etzion Regional Brigade.

“I welcome the return of the baptismal font, which is a cultural and historical treasure from the Byzantine period,” said Hananya Hizmi, the head of COGAT’s Antiquities Unit. “The Civil Administration’s heavy investment of effort and resources in the search over recent years for this item has borne fruit. We will continue working tirelessly to preserve the sites and the archaeological relics throughout Judea and Samaria, and to prevent antiquities thieves from looting the history of the region.”

A few hours later, the PLO Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy released a video on Twitter claiming that “Israeli occupation forces stole a historical baptismal font dating back to the 6th century from the city of Bethlehem last night.”

The video presents footage of the artifact loaded on an open truck.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi described the event as “an abominable act of thuggery and cultural appropriation.”

“A hallmark of Israel’s system of colonial occupation and oppression has been its disdainful attempts to erase Palestinian presence, culture and heritage, including the illegal appropriation and theft of heritage sites and artifacts,” she added in a press release.

The question of who is in charge of archaeological sites in the region and how they are managed is very complex, presenting multiple legal and practical issues.
At present, the archaeology unit at COGAT is in charge of the sites in Israel-controlled Area C, which includes the area of Tekoa, while the Palestinian Authority is responsible for sites located in PA-controlled Area A and in Area B, which include Bethlehem.

However, many instances of neglect and looting, and sometimes even destruction, have been documented in sites under the PA control, while on its part the PA harshly criticized archaeological activities conducted under Israeli auspices in the West Bank calling them “a crime” and labeling them as “political, not scientific.”

Palestinian Archbishop Condemns Israeli Theft of Christian Artifact

July 22, 2020 1:00 PM

The Palestinian Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Theodisius Atallah Hanna, issued a statement Tuesday condemning the Israeli military’s theft of a Christian holy object, a fifth century baptismal font from the Church of Nativity.

The Archbishop stated, “The theft of the historical baptismal font yesterday is considered a direct targeting of our history, our heritage, and the legacy of our existence in this Holy Land.”

His Excellency Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Archbishop of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox, said that the Israeli theft of the ancient and archaeological baptismal font that dates back to the Byzantine era is considered a criminal act that is a direct violation of the ancient Christian heritage in the Holy Land.

The baptismal font was stolen from the village of Teqoua in the Bethlehem governorate. The Archbishop said this is a heinous crime whose aim is to obliterate the cultural, historical and heritage monuments of the continuous Palestinian Christian existence in this Holy Land for thousands of years.

He said, “This is a direct targeting of our Christian heritage associated with this Holy Land, and it is not the first time that historical Christian monuments have been obliterated in our country, especially in the city of Jerusalem. When Israeli roads were erected in multiple places, Christian relics and mosaic paintings linked to the ancient and pure Christian presence in this land were discovered. Many of these holy objects and artifacts which were uncovered by Israeli excavations have been looted, stolen and placed in Israeli museums.

“In every corner and in every village and city in our holy country, there are Christian relics that must be preserved as part of our history and the identity of our country. In the city of Jerusalem, there are constant Israeli attempts to obliterate Christian and Islamic monuments in a miserable attempt to undermine the character of our city and the identity of our Jerusalem.

“This plunder of our civilization, history, and heritage should make us more united in the face of these hostile acts of aggression. Our struggle is the same, and we should not allow anyone to stir up discord, fragmentation, and division in our homeland, as we must be, as we have always been, united in facing the Israeli policies meant to undermine our culture and deny our heritage.

“We demand that this baptismal font be returned to its rightful place, and that it be placed in a Palestinian church or museum. We also categorically reject the Israeli theft of antiquities, whether Christian or Islamic, especially in the city of Jerusalem.

“During the past years, in various places in Jerusalem, when excavations were being conducted in order to open tunnels or new streets, relics of ancient churches and Christian monuments dating back to the fifth century AD were uncovered.

“It is our duty as the Palestinian people to reject any insult to our heritage, history, and holy places, and to be united in one heart, so that we may stop the Israeli plunder of our monuments and religious monuments. The aim of the Israeli government is to marginalize our presence and undermine our history and the evidence of the continuity of our existence in this Holy Land.”


Israeli forces remove 6th-century baptismal font from Palestinian town

by Catholic Herald, UK
July 23, 2020 at 10:01 am

Israeli forces on July 20 carried out an operation to retrieve a Byzantine-era baptismal font that they said was stolen from an archeological site 20 years ago. In response, a Palestinian authority called the act of removing the font from a Palestinian town an act of theft and a “war crime.”

The font, believed to have been used in a 6th-century church at the archeological site near Bethlehem where it was uncovered, weighs some eight tons and is believed to be one of only three of its kind.

Video released by the PLO Department of Public Diplomacy & Policy shows the font being carted out of Bethlehem on a flatbed truck under cover of darkness.

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian authorities have reported exactly where the font was retrieved from, but Palestinan media said the font was taken from the town of Tuqu, about an hour south of Bethlehem.

While Israeli authorities hailed the font’s “retrieval,” Palestinan authorities contended that the operation was an act of theft. The question of who is in charge of archaeological sites in the region and how they are managed is very complex, presenting multiple legal and practical issues.

“Israel’s theft of a baptismal font dating back to the Byzantine era from Bethlehem overnight is an abominable act of thuggery and cultural appropriation,” Hanan Ashrawi, head of the Palestinian Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy, said in a statement.

“A hallmark of Israel’s system of colonial occupation and oppression has been its disdainful attempts to erase Palestinian presence, culture and heritage, including the illegal appropriation and theft of heritage sites and artifacts,” she added.

Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor and president of Bethlehem’s Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, told CNA that in his view, Israel has been “stealing” Palestinian cultural heritage since 1967.

“This piece [belongs] under international law to Palestine. It has to be returned,” he asserted in comments to CNA.

“It might be good to put it in a Palestinian museum, maybe in Bethlehem so as to avoid that something like this will happen again.”

For their part, Israeli authorities hailed the acquisition of the baptismal font as an archeological win. It has reportedly been returned to the Tel Tekoa archaeological site where it was originally found, in an Israel-controlled area of the West Bank.

“This is an important and exciting moment,” Hananya Hizmi, head of the Archaeological Unit at the Civil Administration, told The Times of Israel.

“We have succeeded in returning a unique archaeological relic after years of searching.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in January proposed a two-state peace plan for Israel and Palestine, which includes an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. While Israel has strongly backed the U.S. proposal, the scheme was not welcomed by the Palestinian Authority in part because it would involve annexation of Palestinian territory.

Following the announcement of the plan, the Catholic bishops of the United States encouraged Israel and Palestine to “negotiate directly” with each other and agree on a common resolution for peace.

Both the US bishops and the Holy See have long supported a two-state solution, respecting the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to “live in peace and security.”
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