“Gaza was for centuries the primary trade outlet of the hinterland of Jordan and the greater Arabian Peninsula,” says Salim al-Mubaid, a professor at Gaza’s Islamic University. “The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, and Ottomans all ruled us. There are secrets of history under every square meter.”
Until fairly recently, black market antiquities dealers say their business was nothing short of a free-for-all. Of some 25,000 gold and bronze coins discovered since 1990, for example, 14,000 were stolen and sold off, according to the antiquities ministry.
Construction contractors like Jawhdat Khodary, who opened a private museum in a beachfront space in 2008, would pay laborers and local fishermen for any artifacts they found, preserving at least 3,000 pieces.
“An ancient piece the size of a cellphone from the Pharaonic or Canaanite eras easily sells for $1 million on the black market,” says Abu Ahmed, a dealer involved in the underground antiquity trade. “And I used to make a major deal every month.”
He says Israel’s new travel restrictions through the Erez border crossing have hampered smuggling. But the market for relics in Israel, which he says is the biggest, is still there.