The pictures that prove the guilt of Moshe Dayan - hero and thief

For three decades, General Moshe Dayan, the most revered Israeli military leader, looted archaeological sites in Israel and in territories conquered by the Israeli army. "He robbed antiquities wherever he could reach," says Uri Avneri, a former magazine editor and radical member of the Knesset, who for years campaigned against Gen Dayan's activities.

By the time he died, his reputation tarnished by setbacks in the 1973 war with Egypt and Syria, the archaeological depredations of Israel's most famous general were notorious. He frequently dispatched military units to locate and retrieve objects for his collection. On his death in 1981, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem paid $1m (pounds 620,000) for 1,000 objects owned by Gen Dayan, though critics argued that most were illegally acquired.

"It wasn't easy for archaeologists to stand up to him," says one Israeli ancient historian. Trudi Dottan, an archaeologist who knew Gen Dayan, says he had great intuition about where to dig, but also an all-consuming "lust for finding antiquities".

Uri Avneri says Gen Dayan grew up poor and was always eager for money: "He would go to an Arab dealer in Bethlehem, but the man would not dare to turn him down or charge him the real price for an object. It was close to expropriation."

Talay Arnon, curator of the Dayan collection at the Israel Museum, says pieces of ancient jewellery Gen Dayan is known to have once owned were not among the objects the museum bought: "What we got was mostly pots and jars."

The reason Gen Dayan was able to get away with this for so long was that after Israel's victories in 1956 and 1967 he was a national hero.

Mr Avneri says that not only did archaeologists not support him against Gen Dayan, but "I have never known such hatred towards me because of my campaign, not just in the Knesset but from people in the streets."

An Israeli journalist, Shush Mula, working for the Jeru-salem weekly, Kolha'ir, has now discovered photographs, taken by an Israeli military helicopter pilot, which for the first time show one incident of archaeological theft actually taking place just after the Israeli army, whose chief of staff was Gen Dayan, captured Sinai in 1956.

Uri Yarom, the pilot, has vivid memories of what happened, because he believes his life was put in danger by the venture, which had no military justification.

No sooner had the fighting finished during the Suez war of 1956 than Gen Dayan took his family to southern Sinai to visit Sarabit al-Khadim, a mountaintop which is the site of an ancient Egyptian sanctuary of the XII Dynasty, dedicated to the Goddess Hathor, often represented as a cow- headed wo-man. Beside her temple are stelae, or stone pillars, covered with hieroglyphs and carvings. On 27 November, only three weeks after the Israelis captured southern Sinai, Uri Yarom was sent to bring three of the stelae to Israel, where they ended up in the courtyard of Gen Dayan's house.

"We were told the mission was of national importance," Mr Yarom told Shush Mula. From the beginning they faced difficulties. Thick mist over Sinai made it difficult for them to reach Abu Rudeis, the airbase nearest to Sarabit al-Khadim. "We flew over the ground, seeing nothing but clouds," Mr Yarom said. "The maps we had in our hands were of no value."

At Abu Rudeis they found somebody had stolen the extra supplies of gasoline on which they were counting. As they waited there was a sandstorm and Mr Yarom was frightened that sand would get into the helicopter's engine. He tried to protect it with canvas cut from old beach umbrellas.

The next day, the helicopter found Sarabit al-Khadim after two failed attempts. The photographs show Mr Yarom standing with three other soldiers in front of a 10ft-high stele with others in the background.

Another photograph shows the AS-55 helicopter in the air with the stela hanging beneath it. It weighed half a tonne. "It was lack of responsibility not to tell us the weight," says Mr Yarom. Back in Tel Aviv a driver loading one of three stones onto a truck for carriage to Gen Dayan's house was surprised by its weight and dropped it, cracking the 3,500-year-old carving.

The travels of the carvings from the temple of Hathor were not over. In 1979, Gen Dayan was a member of the right-wing government of Menachim Begin as Foreign Minister. His reputation had never quite recovered from the initial success of the surprise attack made by Egypt and Syria in 1973.

At Camp David Israel agreed openly to return Sinai to Egypt and, less publicly, to return the carvings from Sinai which had been sitting in the courtyard of Gen Dayan's house."The main difficulty was to persuade Dayan to give them back," said one of those involved.

Two years later Gen Dayan died. His health had been damaged by falling into an archaeological excavation. There was criticism of the purchase of his collection by the Israel Museum for such a large sum since under Israeli law the objects should have automatically belonged to the state. Certain items were missing.

Talay Arnon, curator of the Dayan collection, says the museum has 35 unique pottery coffins from 1,400 BC found in the Gaza strip acquired by Gen Dayan, but there is "no sign of the jewellery found in some of them."

By contrast, the loot takenfrom Sarabit al-Khadim is back where it came from, none the worse for its sojourn in Israel, except that a large crack now runs down the face of a stele portraying the Goddess Hathor.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back