Last month AP carried a story about how priceless Jewish biblical manuscripts from Syria were smuggled out to Israel. Elder of Ziyon blog has discovered a different spin on the story at Al Akhbar English:
Israel's Manuscript Theft: Appropriating Jewish Arab HistorySomehow, according to this article, manuscripts that were not written in Syria "originated" in...Syria!
Ancient Jewish manuscripts have been stolen and smuggled from Arab countries including ones briefly displayed in Jerusalem earlier this month. The consistent Israeli practice is an attempt to undermine the existence of Jewish presence outside of Israel.
The ‘Damascus Crowns’ are Bible manuscripts between 700 to 1,000 years old originating from Damascus’s Jewish community. The manuscripts were smuggled to Israel and were stealthily displayed earlier this month for a few hours in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem. This was the second time Israel claimed possession of the documents.
Syrian Jews were renowned for being ‘rich in books.’ The 11 manuscripts that form the ‘Damascus Crowns’ were guarded in some of Syria’s 24 synagogues. None were written in Syria, but arrived there with Jewish migration and held in the Jewish community’s libraries. In the 1970s, with the smuggling of Syrian Jews to Israel via Turkey, the manuscripts were quietly spirited away.These human and manuscript smuggling operations received financial backing from Israeli authorities.
The author uses a UNESCO convention, which Israel did not sign, as proof that the manuscripts belong to Syria. However, the intent of the Convention makes it clear that it should not apply here: From Article II:
The States Parties to this Convention recognize that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country's cultural property against all the dangers resulting there from.Syria was not the "country of origin."
While the Convention does seem to say that any "cultural property found within the national territory" of a country belongs to that country it does not seem to address private property nor property belonging to communities. And that is not a clear cut topic; the issue of Jewish cultural artifacts in Lithuania has been discussed in law literature with many arguments being made that it should properly belong to the Jewish community, not to Lithuania.
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My comment: The law literature arguing that Jewish cultural artefacts should belong to the Jewish community, or Israel representing what is left of the Jewish community, is highly pertinent to the tug-of-war relating to the Jewish books found in a Baghdad basement, which Iraq wants to reclaim after their restoration in the US.