The Apollo of Gaza: the origins of the origins story?

In the last post, I compared the fisherman’s – fishermen‘s – tale(s) of how (t)he(y) found the Gaza Apollo by accident (and I showed how one was an implausibly perfect mirror image of the other). The original investigator, Fabio Scuto, judged that his and re-investigator Vernon Silver’s ‘sources [we]re obviously different’.

In fact, the new story is even more perfectly counterposed to the old one than I’ve shown already. And the nature of the stories may explain why one is the opposite of the other. The origins of the stories may lie at the top(s) of the Palestinian state(s)…

September 2013, version one

In la Repubblica, Hamas’s spies found out about the statue. They believed that it would be ‘a great achievement’ for them ‘to show… this wonder of Greek art’ to the world. But they didn’t know how it looked. Only after they had taken it (or taken the decision to confiscate it and gone to the house of the finder, fisherman Mounir), did Hamas realise that the statue was un-Islamic (an iconic figure in nude human form). They decided first to keep it secret, then to sell it themselves – ‘like so many other antiquities’ – to raise money to fund their blockaded administration.

The West Bank’s Deputy Minister of Tourism and Antiquities (and Director-General of the Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage), Hamdan Taha, heard about the planned sale and export of the statue from la Repubblica. And he encouraged everyone to circulate the newspaper’s photographs of the statue, ‘so that nobody [no potential buyer could] say, “I didn’t know where it came from”‘.

September 2013, version two

In Businessweek, Hamas were actively approached and informed about the statue, in order for them to secure it. They knew how it looked and, regardless of its iconic nude nature, prevented anyone from ‘sell[ing] it outside Gaza‘.

The intermediary between the finder and Hamas, Jawdat Khoudary, judged that the statue needed to be conserved and restored ‘immediate[ly]’. The Gaza Strip’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities promptly established an ‘impromptu working group of European archaeologists’ and other cultural heritage professionals at the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem (l’École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem), the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre), the University of Orleans (l’Université d’Orléans) and elsewhere(?).

Orleans’ Gaza-sited ancient historian Prof. Thomas Bauzou was definitely consulted by the 23rd of September 2013 at the latest. Yet, just like the niggling details in Jouda Ghurab’s story of his accidental discovery of the statue, there are unsettling points in Hamas’s patriotic tale.

October 2013, version two

According to the tale told to BusinessWeek, the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip acquired the statue in September and immediately contacted everybody it could in order to conserve the bronze. But the Fatah administration in the West Bank only heard about the statue in October and was informed by la Repubblica. So the Gaza Strip’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities did not contact the West Bank’s Ministry.

Was that because inter-administration relations were so poor? Possibly. Or was it because Hamas’s origins story was bullshit? Possibly.

August 2013?

Again according to BusinessWeek, ‘[i]f the fisherman’s militant cousins had to sell the bronze locally, there was one obvious buyer‘, patriotic Gazan antiquities collector Khoudary, who owns a seafront hotel called the Museum (Al-Mathaf), which contains a permanent exhibition of antiquities. It is normal for ‘dealers and scavengers’ to go to the museum-hotel and sell objects to Khoudary. They provide a ‘steady supply’ of illicit antiquities. And as a fisherman, Ghurab would have been on the seafront every day. Yet apparently it took a month for him to approach Khoudary indirectly.

October 2013, version one

According to la Repubblica, the fisherman found the Apollo in mid-September and Hamas confiscated it immediately and tried to sell it. If it’s true that, if Scuto hadn’t (investigated and) published his article in early October, ‘the Apollo would [have been] out of the Gaza Strip and in a warehouse‘, how can there be evidence of Hamas’s attempts to conserve the statue in late September?

The easiest way for Hamas to contact everybody it could in order to conserve the bronze would have been to publicly announce the discovery of the bronze, but it didn’t do that. According to Prof. Fr. Jean-Baptiste Humbert, the Louvre did ‘not want to be officially involved in that affair, as long the statue’s origin is not clear’. Why, then, didn’t Hamas make the Apollo’s discovery public and simply keep the Louvre’s assistance secret?

Prof. Humbert, Prof. Bauzou and others are advocates for the Apollo project; these breaches already happen, so the only way Hamas could have achieved further cooperation or institutional recognition would have been through formal, public cooperation; and even after the Apollo’s existence became public knowledge, Hamas did not make an official comment for over three months.

Tying up loose ends

Is there any way to explain Mounir and the West Bank Ministry’s story, which is consistent and plausible, and which has multiple sources of independent testimony, but which also seems to be contradicted by documentary evidence? Is there any way to explain Jouda and Hamas’s story, which is alternately inconsistent and implausible, but which seems to be corroborated by multiple sources of independent evidence? Is there any way to reconcile the two? Possibly.

Whichever story is true (if either of the stories is true, and indeed if neither of them is true), the bronze would have needed conservation. So all of the testimony and documentation of Hamas’s efforts to conserve the bronze may be authentic, but none of it proves Hamas’s good intent in and of itself. And, if Jouda and Hamas’s story was true, they could have launched an international campaign of propaganda and diplomacy as soon as they rescued the god from the market. Yet they didn’t even launch a campaign after Scuto’s exposé.

If Mounir and the West Bank Ministry’s story was true, then Scuto and Taha would have disrupted the sale and prevented the export. At that point, Hamas could have decided to make the best of a bad job. Then, conjuring up a new fisherman to tell a new story of accidental discovery, all-too-precisely rewritten from the original account… providing genuine documents that discussed conservation… presenting sincere scientific partners… Hamas could have begun to use the statue as a tool in the struggle for civilian aid and state recognition.

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5 Responses to “The Apollo of Gaza: the origins of the origins story?”

  1. Sam, very good research. The Israeli press have some different details again as you already saw I think; and Bloomberg also had version were cutting off of the finger was denied. Have you noted that the weight of the statue as given on ebay is also imcompatible with some of the versions? Fantastic details….

    There is one more aspect that may need more attention: these western experts and museums brought up by the Gaza authorities. Since Gaza is not a recognized state, but officially part of the Palestinian territories, the legal authority relevant to the statue is the Palestinian authority. This also implies that no expert or museum can do anything with the statue publicly and officially without a permit from the West Bank (and/or backing from Unesco or another relevant international authority). As long as this is not arranged, a museum like the Louvre (mentioned by the Gaza people apparently) will never do anything. So there can’t be any serious scientific partners, at least for the moment.

    I am sure the Gaza authorities are very well aware of this. So why mentioning that they have contacted external expertise? Pure bluff? Pressure in their political struggle for recognition? Empty showing of good will? It certainly does look like making the best of a bad job, but there are some loose ends there.

    • Cheers! Yeah, it’s getting (more) ridiculous (in a good way, for me). I’ve been drafting one post on the scientific stuff and another on the legal stuff, but they keep getting delayed.

      I should post something else (fun) tomorrow or the day after. (It’s one of the causes of the delays, Now I’ve confirmed everything, I just need to decide how to release it.)

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