The Arab world is busy denying its ancient Jewish history, but eagle-eyed tourists may stumble across some real gems. This exchange between two commenters is from a recent thread on Harry’s Place:
I was in Libya two years ago visiting the archeological site Leptis Magna. In the archeological museum there was a section labelled Christian artifacts. We spotted an object with a menorah carved on it. The guide had a prestigious degree in archeology from a Libyan university, and told me the BBC was in the process of making a programme about Libya’s archeological wonders which he was fronting.
I asked him if he could tell me anything about the menorah. No, he said blankly. I gave him a clue; It looks exactly like the one on Titus arch in Rome, you know the one depicting the Jewish exile from Jerusalem, one of the spoils from the Temple being carried to Rome?
No, sorry I don’t know anything about it, he shrugged.
When last I travelled to Syria, I had to fill in a visa application form which asked whether I had ever visited “occupied Palestine” – the Syrian state being constitutionally unable to even print the word “Israel” on its visa application forms.
Until recently all Sudanese passports carried on the first page a large comment in red ink: “For travel to all countries EXCEPT Israel” – at least the Sudanese could bring themselves to mention the name of the country. Sudanese passports no longer carry this caveat – however, you are still not allowed to visit the country if you are a Sudanese, or (for what ever bizarre reason may possess you) wish to visit Sudan after getting Israeli border stamps in your passport (personally, I would not bother – Sudan is grim, dusty, as hot as hell and is most certainly *not* the party capital of sub-Saharan Africa).
Amie, when I was last in Syria I was wandering about the National Archaeological Museum in Damascus (as one does) and I bumped into a very nice French couple, who turned out to be archaeology post-grads with a specialism in the ancient Near East. They told me that beyond courtyard yonder was one of the great treasures of the museum – but that the local authorities never made a big deal of it and would only open up the room on request. I located the nearest lounging Syrian museum guard, who was happily flicking his cigarette ash into some ancient pot and asked for entry to said room. He was somewhat reluctant, but I managed to corral in some other tourists and eventually he shuffled off in the direction of the room, crossing the courtyard and unlocking the door to the exhibit.
Inside was a complete reconstruction of the synagogue of the ancient city of Dura-Europa. It’s wall frescos dating from the Third Century C.E., carefully extracted from site and rehung on the walls of this little room in the National Museum in Damascus. This treasure has no signs leading to it – and the guard, Jihad was his name, is clearly under instructions not to encourage visits. I think they find it all a bit embarrassing actually – what *Jews* in the Middle East? Shurely shome mishtake.