A Very General Archaeologist—Moshe Dayan and Israeli Archaeology

Raz Kletter


This article is a preliminary investigation of three
decades of robbery, collection and trade in antiquities by General Moshe Dayan,
perhaps Israel’s most famous commander and politician. In trying to separate
facts from the many rumors that follow his name, this contribution is mainly
based on written sources, some never published before. They prove that, since
1951, Dayan was involved in large-scale robbery of antiquities in dozens of
sites in Israel and the occupied territories. Dayan used army equipment and
personnel for robbery and transfer of antiquities; established a vast collection
of stolen and bought antiquities, and exchanged and sold antiquities in Israel
and abroad. He became a negative model for others and damaged the cause of
Israeli archaeology as a whole. Although Dayan was caught in person at least
four times during robbery, he was never brought to justice. After his death, his
collection was sold by his widow to the Israel Museum for 1 million US$. Though
Dayan’s activities are a sort of a known secret in Israel, they were never
investigated from an archaeological perspective. Many facts remain unknown since
they appear in remote Hebrew sources, hence writers about Dayan, including some
of his biographers, often follow the wrong, romantic view of him as the ‘good
guy’- a sort of an Israeli Robin Hood that fights stupid bureaucracy and social
rules. This article brings a representative sample of Dayan’s deeds and tries to
evaluate them and to ask how they were possible, and what has changed since
those “good old days”.

Full Text: