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Israeli high court says antiquities dealers must document all artefacts online

Antiquities authority hails December ruling as revolutionary

The Israeli high court has rejected a request by antiquities dealers in the country to overturn legislation that requires them to document their entire inventory online. Now antiquities dealers will have to allocate every artefact an identification number and picture, which will be stored on an electronic database.

It is hoped the new system will help stop the illegal trafficking of artefacts, as it will be difficult for dealers to add objects without proper provenance. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has described the court’s decision as a “revolution”, according to the Israel National News.

The ruling on 28 December ends several attempts to change the legislation since 2012. The new regulations were issued last year after the Israel Antiquities Authority and various government departments made a series of revisions. But 15 antiquities dealers filed a petition in the high court at the end of last year.   

Speaking after the court ruling Radwan Badihi, a legal adviser for the Israel Antiquities Authority, told the Israel National News: “The phenomenon of antiquities robbery is a national catastrophe. The court’s ruling has put an end to years of ongoing damage to cultural assets and will place Israel in line with the civilised countries of the world in protecting the nation’s cultural heritage and antiquities.”

However, some experts say that very few countries operate such registration systems—nor are they likely to. Kate Fitz Gibbon, a US lawyer specialising in cultural property, says Japan perhaps has the most “civilised” cultural property legislation. “In Japan, objects of cultural heritage are registered for the purpose of keeping track of them and only a very limited number of items of great historical or artistic importance are completely prohibited from export,” she says, noting that Israel’s legislation is not intended to hinder the legal trade of antiquities.  

“The most likely problems that will result in Israel are from the difficulty of documenting the thousands of identical, low value objects such as coins,” Fitz Gibbon says.