Sunday 15 October 2006

Author traces journey of `God's gold'

Says Temple icons hidden in W. Bank

BOSTON GLOBE | October 15, 2006
By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

MAR THEODOSIUS, West Bank -- Until today, the main claim to fame of this sleepy monastery, home to 10 nuns on the edge of the Judean wilderness in the West Bank, was the tradition that said the Three Wise Men slept in the caves here after visiting the infant Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

Now, a new book contends that Mar Theodosius is the last hiding place of one of the greatest treasures of antiquity: the gold and silver vessels of the Temple in Jerusalem.

British archeologist Sean Kingsley said he followed the journey of the legendary vessels for the first time since they disappeared from public view more than 1,500 years ago and traced them to their current location in this walled monastery east of Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank.

Kingsley's critics say there is no evidence to support his thesis, and plenty of evidence that it's ludicrous.

The vessels in question include some of the icons of biblical Judaism -- the seven-branched gold candelabrum, bejewel ed Table of the Divine Presence, and a pair of silver trumpets.

Many people, including Israeli government officials, believe the Temple vessels are hidden somewhere in the Vatican vaults. In 1996, Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet asked officially for the pope to return them. The Vatican denied the vessels were there.

Kingsley argues that the vessels were taken from Rome when it was sacked by the Vandals in AD 455.

In his new book, ``God's Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem," published in Britain by John Murray and in the United States by Harper Collins next spring, Kingsley describes what he says was the odyssey of the priceless haul: from Jerusalem to Rome and back again via Carthage and Constantinople, to what he says is its final resting place at the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Theodosius on the edge of the Judean desert, in the village of Ubadiyah, about 6 miles east of Bethlehem.

Kingsley holds a doctorate in the arch eology of the Holy Land from Oxford University and is a visiting fellow at the Research Centre for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at the University of Reading. He is managing editor of Minerva, the International Review of Ancient Art and Archaeology, and was one of the archeologists who discovered the largest trove of sunken treasure ever recovered off the coast of Israel.

Kingsley says his research suggests that the precious vessels were hidden in the caves under Mar Theodosius to escape the sacking of Jerusalem by Muslim invaders in AD 614.

Nuns at the monastery said there was no treasure buried at Mar Theodosius, which was itself destroyed during the same Muslim invasion and left abandoned until the late 19th century. During a visit to the caves beneath the monastery, a reporter was told that no precious artifacts had ever been recovered from the site, probably because it was left in ruins for nearly 1,300 years and any valuables there were looted by hermits and grave robbers.

Israeli specialists scoffed at Kingsley's theories.

``I've been there several times studying the skeletons of monks who were massacred by the Persians in the seventh century," said Joe Zias, an Israeli anthropologist and archeologist. ``It doesn't have any such treasure, and if it did it was plundered by the Arabs or Persians centuries ago."

The story of the vessels has long fascinated historians. According to Josephus, a first-century Roman-Jewish historian, 50 tons of gold and silver vessels were plundered from the Temple by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus during the conquest of Jerusalem in AD 70.

``Contemporary sources show that it survived on public display in the Temple of Peace in the Roman Forum from AD 75 into the early fifth century. Then it suddenly disappeared. Who stole God's gold?" Kingsley said in an interview.

According to his research, it was Gaiseric, king of the Vandals.

``In AD 455, Gaiseric looted and burnt Rome in 14 days and threw everything he could, including the Temple treasures, into ships and took them to the Temple of Carthage," he said. ``They would not have liquidated the loot. It gave them power."

``In AD 534, the emperor Justinian brought the Vandal king into Constantinople. The records show that they resurrected the triumphal procession in AD 71. The historian Procopius of Ceasaria clearly describes the treasures of Jerusalem being paraded at the head of this triumph."

But the treasure did not remain in Constantinople for very long.

``The emperor Justinian was a student of classical antiquity, and he was aware that every civilization that controlled the Temple treasure had eventually been consumed by it. Fearful, he sent the treasure back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in around AD 560," said Kingsley.

Procopius reported that a Jewish court adviser warned Justinian about the dangers of keeping the vessels. The emperor ``became afraid and quickly sent everything to the sanctuaries of the Christians in Jerusalem, " Procopius wrote.

During a subsequent Persian invasion, Kingsley argues, a monk called Modestus from the monastery at Mar Theodosius found himself in charge of the priceless vessels and hid them in the isolated desert caves at the monastery.

Kingsley said he peered over the wall of the monastery and saw evidence of archeological looting in the area, but hoped the Temple treasures -- if they are there -- would remain undisturbed.

Monday 9 October 2006

Palestinians losing faith in Hamas

Trade has dwindled; government unable to fulfill its functions

Monday, October 9, 2006
Page A - 1

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Bethlehem, West Bank -- Mohammed Fathi looked hopefully at the trickle of pedestrians coming through the Israeli checkpoint at the main entrance to Bethlehem and let out a sigh. The assortment of necklaces hanging on his arm was growing heavy, and there seemed to be little chance of making any sales before he had to head home for the iftar, the meal marking the end of the day's Ramadan fast.

"A year ago, I would sell between 100 and 200 necklaces a week -- now I'm lucky if I sell 10," said Fathi, 23, who has been peddling trinkets to Bethlehem's tourists since he dropped out of school a decade ago.

Fathi watched in alarm as the tourist trade dwindled under the government led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority Presidents Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. The city's struggling economy all but collapsed from the five-year Palestinian uprising known as the intifada, the frequent Israeli military incursions and, finally, the construction of the grim security barrier that has severed Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem and the rest of Israel and the West Bank.

When the chance came to replace the incompetent and corrupt Fatah government in January, Fathi -- like many nonaffiliated Palestinians -- voted for Hamas. Nine months later, the economic and political crisis has reached the point where he pines for the days of Arafat's cronies.

"I voted for Hamas, but I wouldn't vote for them again," said Fathi. "Look how my situation is now. Of course, Fatah are corrupt people, but at least we see something from them. There is gasoline, there is some food. There is some help. We know they take 80 percent, but at least we see 20 percent. ... I don't think any of the people here would vote for Hamas again. There is no money, there is nothing."

Before it won parliamentary elections, Hamas earned its popularity among ordinary Palestinians because it ran schools, hospitals and other social services without the corruption that riddled Fatah. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, more than 140,000 government workers -- about one-third of the working population -- have not received salaries since March, the result of an economic boycott imposed on Hamas by Israel, the United States and most Western countries because of its refusal to recognize Israel, give up terrorism or honor past peace agreements.

The Hamas government thought it would be able to bypass the boycott with support from sympathetic governments led by Iran, but the cash has not lived up to the promises.

Government schools have been shut since the start of the new school year in early September, the result of a strike by teachers who have not been paid since before the summer. Unpaid police are eking out a living by moonlighting or running protection rackets and debt-collection services.

The price of diesel has almost doubled in the past year, and gasoline has gone up by 20 percent. Crime is rising. Armed, unemployed men -- some of them nurtured during the intifada -- have begun using their weapons to hold up gas stations and other easy prey.

In the smart Ararat neighborhood of Beit Sahour, Bethlehem's neighboring town, Dina Awwad's imposing house was burgled last month, and all the jewelry and cash were stolen.

"We are totally depressed," she said. "The gunmen are using the decline in the economic situation to rob people. It came as a complete surprise. We didn't even have an alarm."

For months, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas have been engaged in fruitless talks on a unity government, but Hamas refuses to recognize Israel -- a position Haniyeh emphasized in a fiery speech Friday in Gaza City.

"We will not change our position on the issue of recognizing Israel, and any member of Hamas who recognizes Israel will leave the movement," said Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas foreign minister.

A poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center in late September suggested Hamas was losing the support it gained in January's election. The poll showed that 55.9 percent of Palestinians support the formation of a national unity government as the best way out of the current crisis. Moreover, 32 percent said they would vote for Fatah if elections were held today, while 21.9 percent said they would vote for Hamas. The sample size was 1,200 and the margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

Last week, the simmering tensions boiled over into gunbattles on the streets of Gaza between warring Fatah and Hamas forces that left 12 Palestinians dead.

Bethlehem once bustled with Christian tourists. Figures kept by the Palestinian Tourist Police show that on an average day in September, only 239 foreigners visited, compared with more than 1,000 a day one year ago, and many thousands before the intifada.

Down Manger Street, the main road leading to the historic Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born, the businesses told their own story. Most were shuttered. A handwritten sign at the gas station said: "Closed -- No Gas -- No Diesel."

Last Monday, masked Fatah gunmen took to Bethlehem's streets, shooting in the air, to impose a general strike intended to increase the pressure on Hamas to capitulate or step down. The house of the Hamas mayor of the neighboring village of Doha was fire-bombed, and a devout Muslim who lives in Bethlehem discovered a bomb planted under the seat of his car, which had to be defused by police.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, warned that "the Palestinian people will go out to the streets to topple the government" if it did not resign. The growing strikes, demonstrations and now gunbattles appear to be bearing out his prediction.

"If Hamas would recognize Israel, everything would be OK, but the problem is that Hamas doesn't want to talk with Israel," said Fathi, the trinket seller. "I never went to school or university, I'm not an educated man, but I understand one thing: There is no way to reach an agreement or fix the problem between us and Israel without talking to each other.

"When I voted for Hamas, I didn't vote about the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. I voted for them to deal with the situation inside Palestine, between the people and the government," he said. "Everybody thought Hamas was good, not like Fatah. I thought we needed a change. I just need to make money, I just need to live. I just need something to make me feel I'm not like an animal. I don't want to feel like I'm a dog, or in a prison."

Sunday 8 October 2006

Using power of the Internet to promote peace

One man's quest involves software to resolve disputes

Yair Amichai-Hamburger, who has developed conflict-resolution computer software, at the "Separation Barrier" between Israel and the West Bank. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Sunday, October 8, 2006
Page F - 3

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- While the Internet has become notorious as a forum for spreading messages of violence and terrorism, Yair Amichai-Hamburger believes it could become a key tool in promoting peace.

Amichai-Hamburger, an Israeli social-industrial psychologist who has written widely on the impact of the Internet on well-being, is developing new software and an Internet platform he hopes will become a cybergateway to conflict resolution around the world.

"The Internet creates a protected environment for users where they have more control over the communication process," said Amichai-Hamburger. "The Internet's unique qualities may help in the creation of positive contact between rival groups."

The new Internet platform is intended to enable groups from opposing sides in conflicts to make contact as the first step toward peacemaking. Amichai-Hamburger believes the use of the Internet for such encounters will revolutionize "people-to-people" contacts which have been used to reduce prejudice and conflict for the past half-century, but with mixed results.

From racial strife in mid-20th century America to apartheid in South Africa, Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, social scientists and public policymakers have advocated "people-to-people" encounters as a key to peacemaking. Positive encounters between groups in conflict could break down barriers, create better understanding and serve as the basis for better relations in future, they contended.

Amichai-Hamburger cited the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregated U.S. schools. "The basic idea behind the decision of the Supreme Court was the psychological understanding that the situation could not continue. That if you want to have one nation, you can't break it up into ghettos. It was assumed that you have to have people meet each other, to see and learn the differences and the beauty of each group and their culture," said Amichai-Hamburger.

"One of the problems of intergroup contact is that members may approach it, and experience during it, high intergroup anxiety -- that is anxiety as a group member about meeting members of the other group," said Professor Miles Hewstone of Oxford University, whose theories on the "contact hypothesis" have been used to enhance contacts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. "Contact works, when it does, by reducing such anxiety."

"I agree with Dr. Amichai-Hamburger that the Internet could be a major tool in conflict resolution," Hewstone said in a telephone interview. "I think he has got an interesting idea here that's worth pursuing."

Hewstone said he tried to create a similar computer-based platform for dialogue between Protestant and Catholic schoolchildren in Northern Ireland, but was prevented from doing so by strict British laws for protecting children's privacy that restrict external access to school Intranet systems.

"You can imagine the circumstances under which people would be more willing to divulge more personal information more quickly because they are hiding behind a computer screen, but it's still a leap of faith from there to whether they would do that in everyday life and whether it would impact on their face-to-face relations with people from the other group," he said.

The classic expression of the theory behind these encounters was "the contact hypothesis," coined by Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport in his 1954 book "The Nature of Prejudice," in which he suggested that contact between different groups would lessen prejudice.

Allport's theories had a major impact on integrated housing projects and desegregated school systems in the United States, and were used to break down the color bar in the U.S. Army, considered a model of integration for other institutions.

But more than half a century of interracial, interfaith and cross-political encounters have not always produced the desired effect. Studies of encounters in conflict situations around the world have suggested that the "contact hypothesis" works only when a range of conditions are satisfied. The contact must be pleasant, it must be fairly intimate and not casual, the participants need to perceive they are of equal status, and it must involve cooperation between groups working toward a mutually agreed goal.

Amichai-Hamburger said that use of the Internet not only reduced the anxiety that could sabotage any in-person encounter, it could also help to create near-perfect conditions for Allport's "contact hypothesis" to occur.

His theories, which are attracting increasing attention from psychologists and the high-tech industry, have applications for resolving a range of conflicts from war zones to corporate disputes.

Amichai-Hamburger, editor of "The Social Net: Understanding Human Behavior in Cyberspace," is a leading expert on the influence and use of the Internet and has advised major corporations, public service providers and political parties. After several years as vice chairman of the psychology department at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, he begins work this month as head of the Bezeq International Research Center for the study of the Psychology of Internet Use at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herlizya, a private Israeli university.

Although his project does not yet have its own Web site, he is overseeing a team of programmers, and is trying to raise funds from corporations that "have shown an interest in sponsoring the project," Amichai-Hamburger said without elaborating. When it is up and running, he said, access will be strictly controlled; group leaders, experts in intergroup contact and psychologists will be online with participants, who will be restricted to those committed to the aims of the encounters.

He said use of the Internet would help overcome the practical difficulties of bringing together people from warring factions. Since the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israelis and Palestinians have been unable to engage in people-to-people projects such as Seeds of Peace because of the security barriers Israel has erected around the West Bank and Gaza.

Amichai-Hamburger said Internet encounters have proved to become much more intimate more quickly than face-to-face meetings, and people felt much more relaxed sitting at home with their computers than in a formal group. In addition, people are now accustomed to learning and communicating via the keyboard.

"For a long time, people have used the Internet for e-learning. It's quite comfortable for people to sit in their house and study through the Internet. And we know that millions of people around the world are using the Internet to communicate with others," he said.

Amichai-Hamburger said he hoped the new platform would be launched with the support of political and community leaders from all sides, whose backing would encourage their constituents to participate. It will contain a database drawing on past encounter experiences -- including failures -- as well as cultural information about the groups for participants to study before entering the dialogue.

Contacts will begin at text-only level in order to reduce the anxiety caused by appearing in public, and also in order to increase the "salience" or sense of group identity which studies have shown is crucial to the eventual success of the encounter.

"We want to change people's stereotypes," said Amichai-Hamburger. "We want people to generalize from their positive experience to their whole perception of the other group. The Internet can become a major tool in bringing about world peace."