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Qatari foundation rescues Islamic artefacts and returns them to Jerusalem Museum

Islamic artefacts were expected to be sold by Sotheby’s auction house in London last October [Sothebys/Twitter]
Islamic artefacts were expected to be sold by Sotheby’s auction house in London last October [Sothebys/Twitter]

A Qatari foundation belonging to the ruling Al Thani family has intervened in an ongoing dispute over the sale of 268 rare Islamic artefacts and rescued the items from being removed permanently from their current home in the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.

The rare Islamic artefacts were expected to be sold by Sotheby's auction house in London last October. They include 194 items of Islamic art and 74 timepieces and music boxes from the museum's collection. In total, the items constitute about five per cent of the entire collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem.

The sale of Islamic works, including objects, manuscripts, rugs, and carpets, was estimated to bring a total of between $4.13 million and $6.1 million to the museum.

The watches, which were to be offered on the auction's second day, have a combined estimated worth of $2.2-$3.4 million.

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According to details of the sale reported by Haaretz, it was initiated by the Hermann de Stern Foundation, the principal donor to the Museum of Islamic Art, ostensibly in order to enable the continued existence of the institution for many years to come. The Israel Antiquities Authority approved the removal of the items from its location in Jerusalem.

However, it's reported that opposition by the International Council of Museums Israel and the intervention of Culture Minister, Chili Tropper, as well as President Reuven Rivlin, the sale was postponed. A petition was filed against the sale in Israel's High Court of Justice. The petition claimed that the various groups involved in the sale – the Culture Ministry, the Antiquities Authority, the museum, the Hermann de Stern Foundation, Sotheby's, and even the Israeli attorney general – did not comply with the laws on museums and antiquities.

The court granted the petition and sent the parties to negotiations, which is said to have dragged on. A compromise to sell part of the items was suggested but the Culture Ministry opposed the sale in its entirety.

Resolving the deadlock Al Thani Foundation will pay Sotheby's auction house compensation because of the sale's cancellation, and the items will be returned from London to the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.

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