An archaeological collection from Gaza in exile in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland). The archaeological heritage of Gaza is paying a heavy price in the armed conflict which has ravaged its territory since October 2023. However, some valuable remains are located in a safe place in Geneva, in its free ports. There, 106 heavy boxes weighing 24 tonnes and filled with Gazan archaeological objects have been stored there since the closure of the exhibition organized by the Geneva Museum of Art and History (MAH) entitled “Gaza, at the crossroads of civilizations »

in 2007. Ceramics, lamps, coins, jewelry, amulets, statues of divinities, architectural elements, mosaics are all testimonies of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic civilizations which have succeeded one another on the ground of Gaza, a commercial hub between Africa and the Orient for centuries. The 2007 exhibition brought together 529 objects from two collections, that of the Palestinian Authority (already presented at the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2000) and that put together by the Gazan entrepreneur Jawdat Khoudary. At the head of a large construction company in Gaza, whose teams had unearthed archaeological remains, this archeology enthusiast built up a private collection of nearly 4,000 pieces, some of which he exhibited in a private museum. (destroyed by fire last February). “The Geneva exhibition was to be a foreshadowing of the museum which was to see the light of day in Gaza,” explains Béatrice Blandin, curator in the Department of Archeology at the Geneva museum. This archaeological museum was, according to archaeologist Marc-André Haldimann, co-curator of the 2007 exhibition,

“a vision, a dream, that of offering the population of Gaza access to the civilizations of the past”.

The project of a Gazan museum on hold The end of the exhibition coincided with Hamas coming to power and the subsequent Israeli blockade prevented the crates from being returned to Palestine. The project for a public archaeological museum in Gaza remained as it was. “The Palestinian Authority asked the City of Geneva to keep the objects until the conditions for a safe and damage-free return to Gaza and the West Bank were met and, in 2018, Jawdat Khoudary reached an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA). Since then, the latter has been the owner of all the objects currently deposited in Geneva.

specifies Béatrice Blandin.

The impossible return Seventeen years have passed and the objects are still in exile in Geneva, which has become a “city of refuge” for Gazan heritage. “Since 2007, the MAH has ensured the conservation of Palestinian objects, with the same care as for its own collections, explains Béatrice Blandin, storage in a secure location, monitoring of the health status takes place periodically, insurance is covered, as for objects in the municipal collection. Since 2016, preparations for the return of the collection, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, have been accelerated: the verification of the inventory of objects has been carried out, the restoration of some pieces has been completed, the packaging of works was done, the packaging was ready for an air convoy and a sea convoy. » But the current Israel-Hamas armed conflict since October 2023 has postponed the return of archaeological objects to Gaza. “We can only hope that the objects currently kept in Geneva can finally return to their country of origin and be exhibited there,” explains Madame Blandin.“At present, the role of our museum is limited to making this wish heard and highlighting the importance of this heritage. At this stage, it is impossible to say how this hope might come to fruition, much less to formulate specific plans. The MAH will take care of this collection for as long as necessary”

she explains.

An exhibition planned in Geneva On the side of the City of Geneva, the cause of protecting Gazan heritage seems to have been taken to heart. A press release published in February 2024 testifies to this: “At the request of Mr. Khoudary and the Palestinian Authority, owners of these objects and with the support of the Confederation, the City of Geneva has undertaken to watch over these collections as long as the conditions for a safe and without damage to Gaza and the West Bank would not be reunited. It turns out that they never were and that they are even less so today. » In the meantime, Félicien Mazzola, deputy director of the City's Department of Culture and Digital Transition, confides that“we are working with the museum on an exhibition linked to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Hague Convention” an event which should take place in Geneva in September 2024. On this occasion, a selection of Gazan archaeological objects would be exhibited. “It will be a message of hope. Culture is always a hope. It must not be taken hostage, it is the common language of humanity,”

notes Marc-André Haldimann.

Erratum – Monday May 27, 2024 Contrary to what we wrote in the

JdAn°634, the MAH exhibition in 2007 was entitled “Gaza, at the crossroads of civilizations” and not “Gaza, Crossroads of civilizations”

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