Jewish conspiracy looting Mideast antiquities, say Arab archaeologists

Prominent Iraqi, Syrian historians claim Jews seek to destroy region’s Arab heritage to avenge 2,500-year-old Babylonian exile

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Iraqi historian and archaeologist Ali Al-Nashmi, who said in a TV show that there was an international Jewish mafia that aimed to acquire Iraqi antiquities, September 9, 2015.
Iraqi historian and archaeologist Ali Al-Nashmi, who said in a TV show that there was an international Jewish mafia that aimed to acquire Iraqi antiquities, September 9, 2015.

According to a prominent Iraqi historian and archaeologist and a Syrian director of the country’s famed Palmyra museum, an “international Jewish mafia” is plotting to loot Iraq and Syria of its most valued antiquities in an effort to prove the veracity of the Jewish Bible and eradicate evidence of Arab heritage in the Middle East.

“The Jews are always looking for antiquities – especially Middle Eastern ones, and particularly Iraqi ones – in order to prove that the Torah is true,” Ali al-Nashmi, the Iraqi archaeologist, said on the pan-Arab Mayadeen television channel earlier this month.

“And so they extort, steal, and establish mafia gangs,” he opined.

Al-Nashmi further claimed the “ancient theory” – an apparent reference to the Torah, which he seems to erroneously conflate with the later Babylonian Talmud – is a product of the Jewish exile in Babylon some 2,500 years ago. Jewish adherence to this “theory” of ancient Jewish roots in present-day Iraq – Jews had lived in present-day Iraq since Babylonian times, fleeing only in the 20th century – was “reinforced following the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.”

The Jewish antiquities-stealing “mafia” – whose alleged existence “is why the most prominent archaeologists in the world are Jews,” he adds – is “connected to Jewish capital.”

Walid Al-As’ad, the director of the Palmyra Museum, spoke to the Mayadeen network in a similar vein, explaining that Jews are driven to “erase the Arab origins of these antiquities” – this time a reference to Syrian artifacts – and “destroy the city [of Palmyra] and wipe it off the face of the Earth, in order to erase the memory of their Babylonian exile,” an exile he said was abetted by archers from Palmyra who served in the army of Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II when he destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jewish elite to Babylon.

The prominent Arab archaeologists’ conspiracy theories were broadcast on Mayadeen TV on September 9, 2015, and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Iraq and Syria have both seen rampant theft and destruction of their antiquities – but by Muslim jihadist groups eager for cash to fund their ongoing military campaigns in the two countries.

In August, Islamic State jihadists beheaded Walid’s father, Khaled Al-As’ad, and hanged his mutilated body in public. The elder As’ad had served as director of the Palmyra Museum for 40 years until his retirement in 2003, when Walid took over the position.

Gruesome violence and the destruction of priceless artifacts have become hallmarks of the jihadist Islamic State group as it has expanded its so-called “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria.

In May, Palmyra came under the control of the jihadist group, which later publicly destroyed several famed tower tombs in the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. The group also destroyed Syria’s ancient shrine of Baal Shamin and the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

During the four years of the Syrian civil war and with IS militants controlling large swaths of the country, the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) says that more than 900 monuments and archaeological sites have been looted, damaged or destroyed.

In addition to damaging sites in Syria, IS has destroyed statues, shrines and manuscripts in the Iraqi city of Mosul and demolished the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

AFP contributed to this report.

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