HomeTop StoriesWar Takes Toll on Gaza's Ancient Treasures, Some Safely Stored in Switzerland

War Takes Toll on Gaza’s Ancient Treasures, Some Safely Stored in Switzerland

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has inflicted significant damage on the region’s rich historical heritage, with ancient sites and artifacts falling victim to the devastation wrought by warfare. However, amidst the chaos, a twist of fate has ensured the preservation of some of Gaza’s greatest historical treasures – they are safely stored away in a warehouse in Switzerland.

The UN cultural organization, based on satellite images, has estimated that around 41 historic sites in Gaza have been damaged since Israel initiated airstrikes on the besieged territory. Palestinian archaeologist Fadel al-Otol, along with a group of young peers, has been monitoring the destruction in real-time, providing updates and documentation through a WhatsApp group.

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Gaza City’s 17th century Qasr al-Basha or the Pasha’s Palace, also known as Radwan dynasty castle, which houses a museum and a girls’school, damaged in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. Gaza’s “Napoleon’s Palace” has been destroyed, the ancient Greek site of Anthedon bombed and its only private museum burned down: the war has taken a terrible toll on the rich heritage of the Palestinian territory. But in a strange twist of fate, some of its greatest treasures are safe in a warehouse in Switzerland, ironically all thanks to the blockade that made life in the Gaza Strip such a struggle for the past 16 years.

Among the casualties of the conflict are significant landmarks such as Anthedon, an ancient Greek site, and the 13th-century Al-Basha palace in Gaza City’s old town, also known as “Napoleon’s Palace.” These sites, along with many others, have suffered extensive damage or destruction due to bombings and subsequent bulldozing.

Despite the tragic loss of these cultural treasures, a glimmer of hope lies in the artifacts safely stored in a warehouse in Switzerland. Jawdat Khoudary, a Gazan construction magnate and collector, had amassed a significant collection of ancient objects, many of which were unearthed during property developments in Gaza in the 1990s. However, due to geopolitical changes and the Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza, these artifacts were unable to return home and remained in Geneva.

While part of Khoudary’s collection has been lost due to recent conflicts, the treasures stored in Switzerland remain intact, shielded from the ravages of war. Beatrice Blandin, curator of the Geneva museum housing the artifacts, has confirmed their good condition and revealed discussions for a new exhibition showcasing Gaza’s history.

For Khoudary, the prospect of sharing Gaza’s rich heritage with the world through an exhibition in Switzerland is an opportunity to shed light on the region’s history despite the ongoing turmoil. Meanwhile, efforts continue to ensure the safety of individuals like Fadel al-Otol, who tirelessly document Gaza’s cultural losses amidst the chaos of war.

As Gaza grapples with the devastation wrought by conflict, the story of its ancient treasures – some preserved against all odds – serves as a reminder of the resilience of culture in the face of adversity.

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