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
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003