Tuesday, February 21, 2023

No, Israeli rescuers didn't "steal" a megillah from Turkey

Arabic media and social media are reporting that Israeli rescuers in Turkey "stole" an antique Scroll of Esther. From the official Palestinian Wafa news agency:

 The theft of a historical manuscript by the Israeli rescue team dispatched to Turkey to help those affected by the earthquake sparked an ethical scandal after pictures and videos showed the team members displaying the stolen manuscript.

The Turkish "Haber7" website said it turned out that the Israeli search and rescue team secretly took the Book of Esther from Turkey’s earthquake-damaged Antakya Synagogue in Hatay province before the theft was discovered and the manuscript returned to Turkey.
That is not at all what happened, and Wafa knows it - because it refers to the YNet story that describes what happened:

As Israeli rescue teams were rummaging through the rubble in the Turkish city of Antakya after last week's devastating earthquake in hopes of finding survivors trapped underneath, a local elderly Jewish man approached them holding something unique in his hands — two centuries-old Book of Esther scrolls that were kept in the local synagogue before the shock.

The teary-eyed man approached Major Haim Otmazgin, commander of the ZAKA search-and-rescue force, with an unusual request.

"The last head of our community has now tragically passed and with our proximity to Syria, I'd hate to see the scrolls fall in the wrong hands. Please guard them and make sure our community is remembered," he said.

Moved by the elder's request, Maj. Otmazgin accepted the duty of keeping the artifacts safe.

"In my capacity as a ZAKA volunteer of several decades, this is one of the most moving moments of my life," he said. "I'm truly honored to save such a significant historical document and to make sure the heritage of Antakya's Jewish community remains intact, even after the quake reduced it to nearly nothing.
After the leader of the Antakya community ┼×aul Cenudio─člu  was killed in the devastating earthquake, one of the few remaining members begged the Israelis to save the Megillah.

Assuming that the scroll belonged to the synagogue itself, and that the man was the legal guardian, this would not violate any antiquities laws I am aware of.  They generally apply to artifacts discovered by researchers, not items that belong to an existing institution. Museums sell important artwork all the time. 

However, the larger Jewish community in Istanbul requested the scrolls be returned and held there with the intent to rebuild the Antakya community. The community was not being declared gone. So the Israelis immediately did so. This was all reported in Turkish media:

The head of an Israeli rescue team has handed over the historical Book of Esther, which the team carefully removed from the earthquake-hit Antakya Synagogue and carried to their country, to the Jewish Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul.

Israeli media reported that the historical scrolls of the Book of Esther in Antakya Synagogue, which was damaged in the earthquakes, were taken to Israel by the Israeli search and rescue team ZAKA.

It was stated that the historical scrolls were delivered to Haim Otmazgin, the head of ZAKA, to be transported to a safe place.

The Turkish Jewish Community announced that Israel handed over the scrolls.

“The scroll of Esther was delivered from Israel and is kept in our Chief Rabbinate. It will return to its home after the renovation of our Antakya Synagogue,” it said.

“Our works belonging to all kinds of beliefs and cultures that have existed for centuries within the borders of our country will continue to be carefully protected in these lands,” the Culture and Tourism Ministry stated.

“We will restore our Antakya Synagogue, along with all other damaged registered works, and reopen it to the worship of our citizens,” the ministry said.
There was no intent to steal anything,- only to preserve, but it properly belongs to the Jewish community in Turkey which requested it and received it.

As usual, modern antisemites purposefully twist the facts and lie to make Israel and Israeli Jews appear evil no matter what they do. And there is a word for that.

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