National Geographic : 2008 Dec
An eighth-century mosaic adorns an Islamicpalace in Jericho,but few visitors come to see the masterpiece. Politicalunrest has crippledthe West Bank's tourism industry, and looting threatens its hoped-for rebirth. their archaeological heritage. Yet both Palestin ian and Israeli authorities are hindered by the West Bank's jigsaw of jurisdictional lines. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords and subse quent agreements, Palestinian officers are sup posed to have jurisdiction in cities, towns, and some large villages. They can also enter areas jointly controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but only after notifying the Israeli military. Entering territory governed solely by Israel (which encompasses some 60 percent of the West Bank) is, practically speaking, forbid den. Palestinian officers who risk going in usu ally keep a low profile, wearing plain clothes and carrying no weapons. Given such limitations, the outcomes are predictable. A typical story: One night Namr Boja and five other Palestinian officers went unarmed to arrest villagers near Bethlehem who were digging through tombs. "We shouted, 'We are police! Stop!'" he recalls. "But they surrounded our group and attacked us with rocks." Israeli soldiers, for their part, can range 64 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * DECEMBER 2008 everywhere. Yet because Palestinians consider any show of Israeli force in the West Bank a provocation, Israel's civil administration is reluctant to send soldiers to drive offlooters. "We can't protect sites next to Palestinian villages," says an exasperated Yitzhak Magen, archaeolog ical staff officer for Judaea and Samaria, Israel's term for the West Bank. "We can't go there." The absence of Israeli patrols and restrictions on Palestinian police effectively leave archaeo logical sites unprotected, says Hamdan Taha, the Palestinian Authority's antiquities chief. "The system has collapsed." Some looted artifacts are bought by middle men who supply shops in Israel, where tourists and pilgrims eager to take home a piece of the Holy Land unwittingly underwrite the trade. Other artifacts are smuggled into Jordan, then on to big-time dealers elsewhere in the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf states of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dealers in those countries, in turn, sell the artifacts to outlets in Israel without revealing their provenance.