Sunday, August 10, 2008
Gaza and World Heritage
The UK newspaper the Independent ran this profile on Saturday of Jawdat Khoudary, a Gaza construction magnate with a keen interest in archaeology. This man is pouring money into an archaeology museum to house Gaza's prolific ancient heritage, but fears locals won't support his efforts. I take it that he means they won't visit the museum, and that looting will continue unabated (as apparently it did in the aftermath of the '67 war, no doubt with Moshe Dayan's approval and participation). What's the solution here? Khoudary, who seems to recognize that transnational cooperation is also crucial, hopes to pique the pride of his countrymen. It's common sense: get people to take ownership of heritage, and they'll protect, promote it, etc. Call that the "Macedonian model." But will that work in Gaza? In East Jerusalem? Unfortunately, the archaeology of these places is often at cross-purposes with a number of political, military, and economic objectives. That's why in certain cases, I'm sympathetic to a different model, that of "world heritage." This, loosely, is one of the major lines of defense mounted by former colonial powers' against repatriation of ancient artifacts. The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum belong to everyone, so the argument goes, not just the Greek state -- though of course nationalist excitement of a different kind helped bring the stuff to London in the first place. James Cuno, former curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Harvard, has just written a book called Who Owns Antiquity: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage, in which he argues that the interests of world heritage should always trump national interests in archaeology or in the management of heritage. I fear that we won't be able to purify archaeology as Cuno might like. In fact, if Macedonia and Gaza are any indication, maybe we shouldn't.