by Michael Zeff
A souvenir shop in the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem’s Old City was raided by officers of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) Tuesday night after it was discovered that the store served as a front for illegal antiquities trading. The raid yielded a treasure trove of close to a thousand items of questionable provenance. Bronze arrowheads thousands of years old, coins minted 2,000 years ago during the days of King Herod, Hasmonean rulers, and even Alexander the Great, and special vessels for storing perfumes.
“The souvenir shop, which did not have an antiquities sales license, had been under surveillance for a while,” Dr. Eitan Klein, who supervises the antiquities trade for the IAA, told TPS, adding, “During the second stage of the investigation, our agents posed as collectors and tourists, and purchased undocumented ancient artifacts from the shop. Finally, last night we raided the place and seized all the illegal antiquities. This operation is part of a broader enforcement of new laws and regulations governing the Israeli antiquities trade.”
According to the IAA, these regulations and the subsequent law enforcement activities are designed to prevent antiquities dealers from laundering illegal artifacts that are the product of antiquities robbery, the illicit excavation for profit of archaeological sites.
“Laundering artifacts means taking antiquities obtained through robbery, and inserting them into merchants’ commercial inventory in order to pass them off as legal and sell them. We estimate that today about 90% of undocumented and unregulated artifacts originate in robbery and looting,” Klein explained.
A salesperson at the store in question, Mamilla Souvenir’s (sic), denied all the allegations, telling TPS that “all our goods are clean. I’m sure the matter will be cleared in the next few days.” However, according to the IAA, an indictment will soon be filed against the shop’s owner, who was unavailable to comment.
“Antiquities robbers and the unlicensed antiquities dealers will very quickly come to understand that they have no one to sell the stolen antiquities to and, in the absence of demand, the plundering of antiquities in Israel will be greatly reduced,” predicted the head of IAA’s Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit, Amir Ganor.