Rockefeller Museum Inner Courtyard and Tower, Jerusalem 1934


Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Israel to Renovate the Rockefeller Museum—Will Its Palestinian History Finally Be Acknowledged?

The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem is closed amid the ongoing war, but that hasn’t stopped Israel from pursuing plans to transform the landmark located just outside Herod’s Gate along the Old City walls. The Government Housing Administration, part of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, is currently deliberating plans to renovate the historic site after the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which had been headquartered in the museum, relocated in October 2023.

The museum holds a significant collection of antiquities found during the Colonial British Mandate (1919–48).

Options for the renovation include turning it into a museum on Jerusalem’s history, operated by the Tower of David Museum; combining it into a café, hotel, and observation point; bringing it under the purview of the IAA; or allowing the Elad Association—a settler organization notorious for using archaeology to displace Palestinians and erase Palestinian culture—to take it over.1

Elad is currently developing a whole cluster of major projects that would bring a Judeo-centric, “Disney” branding to Jerusalem, such as a cable car, suspension bridge, and massive tourist complex just outside the Old City walls. 

The Government Housing Administration did not respond to Jerusalem Story’s requests for comment on renovation efforts.

Feature Story Israel’s Disneyfication of Jerusalem Seeks to Erase Palestinians’ Historic Presence

Israel’s tourist projects ringing Jerusalem’s Old City threaten to diminish the area and transform it into a Disneyfied tourist space serving Jews and their narrative.

Concerns Over Stolen Gaza Antiquities

In addition to changing the museum complex, archaeologists are concerned that Israeli forces may transfer antiquities found in Gaza during the ongoing war to the museum. International law forbids the invading party from removing cultural property from the embattled territory,2 but Israel is doing so regardless.

On January 21, the director of the IAA, Eli Eskozido, shared a video on social media depicting Israeli soldiers examining a collection of antiquities housed in a storeroom in Gaza. The storeroom belongs to the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, which has been conducting archaeological excavations and restoration projects in Gaza in collaboration with local Palestinian archaeologists for decades.3 The artifacts were subsequently removed from Gaza and displayed in the Knesset in Jerusalem.4

 A collection of artifacts taken from Gaza on display in cases in the Israeli Knesset, January 2024

Artifacts stolen by Israeli forces from a warehouse in Gaza during the recent war are displayed in cases in the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem. This was revealed in a January 21, 2024, post on X by Palestinian field reporter Younis Tirawi, who also showed the image of the Israeli soldiers raiding the warehouse.


Younis Tirawi (@ytirawi/X) courtesy of Middle East Monitor

According to Emek Shaveh, an Israeli nonprofit working to prevent the politicization of archaeology, the IAA recommended the military temporarily move the collection, with the IAA’s assistance, to the Rockefeller Museum compound due to “concerns over theft and destruction.”5

In a statement to Jerusalem Story, the IAA clarified that it is not moving the items and that it has contacted the École Biblique about transferring the artifacts out of Gaza to protect them. “There is no intention to transfer these findings to the Rockefeller Museum—neither to a different place under the responsibility of the Israel Antiquities Authority. This was an initial idea that became irrelevant after a short inspection,” the IAA said.6

Violating International Law

Whatever the reason for transferring the Gaza artifacts, experts attest that moving them is in violation of international law. Article 5 of the 1954 Hague Convention7 and the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention8 prohibit transferring cultural property out of occupied territory. 

This violation has historic precedent. In 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the IAA and the Israel Museum began managing the property and changed its name from the Palestinian Archeological Museum to the Rockefeller Museum.9 They also transferred artifacts displayed in the museum, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, to the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem. A small portion was also moved to the Jordan Museum.10 After 1967, an Israeli flag was raised on either side of the Rockefeller Museum’s entrance, giving the falsified impression that it is an Israeli institution despite its being located on occupied Palestinian land.

Rockefeller Museum entrance with Israeli flag raised

The main facade of the Rockefeller Museum seen here with the Israeli flag hoisted above the entrance and on top of the building’s historic tower, Jerusalem, 2014


Carole Raddato, via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2016, Israel’s Supreme Court even ruled that Israeli law prevails over international law in a case involving the museum. Emek Shaveh petitioned the court over the IAA’s decision to transfer the museum’s archaeological library, as well as other artifacts, to West Jerusalem. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal and ruled that the IAA is permitted to move items from the museum to West Jerusalem.11

“The Supreme Court further claimed that the Israeli law in East Jerusalem overrides international law, which prohibits the removal of cultural property from occupied territories,” Emek Shaveh wrote in its press release on the matter.12

Jerusalem Story reached out to IAA to ask if the library was fully moved yet, but did not receive a response.

Erasing Palestinian History

As Israeli authorities planning the renovation wrestle with what to do with the Rockefeller Museum, preserving the site’s Palestinian history is not one of their concerns.

Laying the foundation stone for the Palestine Archeological Museum, Jerusalem, June 1930

The ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Palestine Archeological Museum in Jerusalem on June 19, 1930. British High Commissioner John Chancellor is seen on the platform laying the stone. The first four seated in the front row of the audience, right to left, include prominent Palestinian political and religious figures, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini (third from right).


Sepia Times/University Images Group via Getty Images

Bio Amin al-Husseini

A founder of the Palestinian nationalist movement; a devout, diplomatic, and popular leader who spent much of his career in exile

In 1938, the Palestinian Archaeological Museum opened its doors at its new premises near Herod’s Gate. The museum, originally named the Imperial Museum, was established during Ottoman rule in 1901, but it became the Palestine Archaeological Museum after its collections were seized by British Mandate officials and moved to the Palestine Department of Antiquities in 1921.13

Newly completed Rockefeller Museum located beside the Old City wall of Jerusalem, 1934

The newly completed Rockefeller Museum as viewed from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 1934. To the left of the impressive and imposing structure is the northeastern edge of the Old City wall, and behind it are the Palestinian neighborhoods of Wadi al-Joz and Sheikh Jarrah.


Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Construction at its new location began after 1925 on land the British purchased from the Khalili family on a plot of land known as Karm (orchard in Arabic) Sheikh al-Khalili. One of the first buildings outside of the Old City walls was erected on this property in 171414—a palace built by renowned Islamic scholar and mufti Sheikh Muhammad al-Khalili.15

Palestinian anthropologist, author, and artist Ali Qleibo, whose surname is a nickname given to his great-grandfather, is a descendant of al-Khalili. Qleibo, who resides in East Jerusalem, explained that the Rockefeller Museum administration’s offices were once his family’s manor.

Qleibo said that whoever controls the museum or whatever happens to the building does not concern him. “The colors of the flag above the building don't make a difference,” Qleibo said. “I want the family name and its relationship with the place established.”

He explained that, while al-Khalili’s clothes and scepter are housed in the museum, information on the property’s Palestinian history and original owners isn’t displayed there or on the museum’s website. 

“We don't have a political issue, but we have a historical issue—an issue of restitution,” Qleibo said. Whether the museum is turned into a hotel or not, what’s most important to Qleibo is recognition of his family and Palestinian history. 

“The building exists there. It had owners. You cannot live in denial of Palestinian social history. We have lived here for centuries. And that in itself is political,” Qleibo said. “The whole point is to pretend that Palestinians don’t belong to the land.”

“I want the family name and its relationship with the place established.”

Ali Qleibo



Kuti Fondminski, “One of the Mysterious Buildings in Jerusalem Has Been Emptied and Now Everyone Is Trying to Take It Over” [in Hebrew], Yediot Yerushalayim, December 30, 2023.


The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accessed February 20, 2024.


Israel: Army Displays Artefacts Stolen from Gaza in the Knesset,” Middle East Monitor, January 22, 2024.


“IDF Invites.”


Email correspondence with the author, February 4, 2024.


Hamdan Taha, “Jerusalem’s Palestine Archaeological Museum,” Jerusalem Quarterly 91 (2022).


Interview conducted by the author with the Alliance to Restore Cultural Heritage in Jerusalem on January 31, 2024.


“Press Release.”


Taha, “Jerusalem’s Palestine,” 59–60.


Taha, “Jerusalem’s Palestine,” 64.


Ali Qleibo, interview by the author, February 1, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Qleibo are from this interview.

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