Police have recently transferred to the State Prosecutor's Office what they say is enough evidence to indict archaeologist Professor Hanan Eshel on three criminal counts, Haaretz has learned. The Prosecutor's Office will decide soon whether to issue an indictment against Eshel.
The counts include bringing an antiquity into Israel illegally, trafficking in stolen property, and not reporting the discovery of an antiquity as required by law. Eshel is the former head of Bar-Ilan University's archaeology department, and one of the world's foremost scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Controversy regarding the investigation of how a fragment of scroll from the Bar Kokhba period came into Eshel's possession - which he eventually turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority - has led to an unprecedented flap between Bar Ilan and the IAA over the past few days.
The heads of all university archaeology departments have been summoned to an urgent meeting today with IAA director Shuka Dorfman, following Bar Ilan's decision to postpone indefinitely its upcoming annual archaeological conference in protest against the IAA's police complaint against Eshel. Dorfman wants to ask another university to host the prestigious conference, at which several IAA archaeologists were scheduled to speak.
There are "problematic aspects in the behavior of both sides," Professor Itzhak Gilad, head of the archaeology department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who was on the roster of speakers, told Haaretz yesterday.
"Dorfman cannot be allowed to treat a senior scholar who did everything he could to save a rare antiquity as if he were a common criminal," sources at Bar Ilan told Haaretz. "There is no reason to cooperate with the IAA in holding scientific conferences when at the same time the IAA is attacking our scholar, who has done nothing wrong," the sources added.
In August 2004, Eshel and his student, Roi Porat, met in the Judean Desert with a Bedouin antiquities dealer, who showed them a fragment of an ancient document. Shortly thereafter, Eshel went to the U.S. to teach and left Porat to study the find. According to Eshel, Porat discovered that the fragment dated from the Bar Kokhba period, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Eshel claims that Porat informed the IAA of the discovery, but the latter did not seek to obtain it. Eshel says that when he returned from the U.S, he met again with the dealer, and noticed the fragment had deteriorated severely. He purchased it for a few thousand shekels, financed by the research institute at Bar Ilan where he is employed, and that he then transferred the document to a laboratory in an effort to preserve it.
In February 2005, Eshel transferred the fragment to the IAA without remuneration. The IAA claims that Eshel should have reported the find to them within 15 days and immediately turn it over to them. Bar Ilan has declared its unqualified support for Eshel in the matter.
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