BETHLEHEM, Thursday, January 5, 2023 (WAFA) - United States and Palestinian officials today gathered at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Bethlehem for the historic repatriation of a rare Palestinian cultural object. It is the first ever event of such repatriation from the United States to the Palestinian Authority in history, during which US and Palestinian officials shared their mutual respect and appreciation for cultural heritage and history, acknowledging the importance of cultural exchange in strengthening the US–Palestinian relationship.
During the ceremony, the US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) delivered an Iron-age cosmetic spoon almost 3,000 years old.
Participation in the historic event included Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rula Maayah and other officials from the PA Ministry of Tourism and the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquates Police. The U.S. delegation included the Chief of the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs George Noll, Department of Homeland Security Attaché Donald Mania, and New York Assistant District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah welcomed the U.S. delegation saying, “this artifact is important as it acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location,” adding that “the artifact that is being delivered today is a cosmetic tool that was used to pour incense, and it dates to the Assyrian civilization 700-800 BC. Based on information from the US side, the investigations they conducted showed that the artifact was stolen from Khirbet al-Koum area in Hebron.”
The Chief of the US Office of Palestinian Affairs George Noll stated, “The US Office of Palestinian Affairs is proud to facilitate the return of this rare antiquity, an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony. This is a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect, and partnership.”
Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for HSI in New York, where the antiquity was recovered, shared, “antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage. We are honored to join our partners today in the historic repatriation of this artifact to the Palestinian Authority.” Regional Attaché for the US Department of Homeland Security HSI, Jeff Brannigan also stated, “this repatriation is representative of HSI’s commitment to ensuring the storied heritages of peoples around the world through the preservation and protection of cultural artifacts.”
“We are proud to join our law enforcement and government partners in this historic moment. It is impossible to put a value on the cultural and historical significance of looted antiquities and I thank our talented team of attorneys and investigators who are continuing their incredible work of returning these objects to where they rightfully belong,” said New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
The Iron Age Palestinian antiquity, recovered by The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), was among a collection of numerous other looted cultural objects from other Middle Eastern countries, Greece, and Italy. The New York District Attorney’s (NYDA) office has prosecuted a suspect for the crime and returned many of the other countries’ lost objects in similar ceremonies this year.