Israeli earthquake team in Turkey accused of smuggling biblical text back to Israel
An Israeli rescue team deployed to Turkey after the devastating earthquake has been accused of smuggling a centuries-old sacred text from the rubble and taking it to Israel.
Emergency response team "ZAKA" were involved in rescue efforts in Antakya, the capital of Turkey’s southernmost province Hatay which was left "unrecognisable" because of the earthquake’s destruction according to locals.
The Israeli team allegedly found the biblical manuscript The Book of Esther and delivered the documents back to rabbis in Israel, reported Arabi21.
Israeli media claims the texts were handed to Major Haim Otmazgin, a member of the Israeli team in Turkey, by a local resident who wanted to safeguard them against looting.
"Major Otmazgin obliged, pledging to keep the scrolls safe and personally oversee their transport," reported The Jerusalem Post.
However, Turkish authorities were not made aware of this trade and later opened an investigation into the "news of smuggling…the biblical manuscript", reported Arabi21.
Parşömenin 2863 sayılı kanun kapsamında değerlendirilmesine ilişkin her türlü iddia Bakanlığımız Kaçakçılıkla Mücadele Daire Başkanlığınca titizlikle araştırılmakta ve süreç Dışişleri Bakanlığımızla koordineli olarak ele alınmaktadır.— T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı (@TCKulturTurizm) February 19, 2023
The Turkish ministry of culture and tourism tweeted on Sunday: "The historic Ester scroll found in our Antakya Synagogue, which was destroyed in earthquakes, is preserved by the Chief Rabbinate of Turkey."
The statement then said: "Artifacts belonging to all kinds of beliefs and cultures that have existed within the borders of our country for centuries will continue to be carefully preserved in these lands."
The Turkish ministry’s tweet made a reference to "allegations regarding the evaluation of [the] parchment" and investigations by "the Anti-Smuggling Department".
"Zaka" has been involved in search and rescue operations since the 6 February earthquake, and last week located the body of the head of Antakya’s Jewish community and his wife.
The death toll from the earthquake has surpassed 45,000 in both Turkey and neighbouring Syria.
The New Arab has approached ZAKA for comment regarding the allegations.