Israeli soldiers seize 5th century baptismal font near Bethlehem

Only three baptismal fonts of this type exist in Palestine, one in the Church of the Nativity. Israeli NGO slams government decision to illegally take away works of art, a symbolic act that must be condemned.

Ramallah (AsiaNews) – A group of Israeli soldiers at dawn Monday took a 5th century baptismal font from Tuqu, a town near Bethlehem, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported with video.

The Byzantine-era artefact has great historical value. It is one of three of its kind in the Holy Land. One exists in the Church of the Nativity.

The font, made from rose-coloured stone, was stolen in 2000 by people unknown but was recovered in 2002. Pending the construction of a museum, it stood in front of the mayor's house.

International law prohibits an occupying power from taking antiquities out of occupied territories. Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO “working to defend cultural heritage rights" has long criticised Israel for its poor management in the West Bank archaeology.

“Israel continues to use its position as the administrator of archaeological sites in the West Bank as a means to deepen its control over West Bank land,” it said in a statement. This extends “the policy of dispossession of Palestinians from their lands and cultural assets”.

“Although the takeover of land through archaeology is not the main method of achieving Israeli control over land, it is significant because of its symbolic aspects and impact on public awareness.”