American tourist Diana Campuzano was having lunch on a Jerusalem sidewalk when a Hamas suicide bomber struck. Now a US court has ruled that since Iran supports Hamas financially, ancient Iranian artifacts housed at the University of Chicago may be auctioned to compensate Ms. Campuzano for her injuries. Here’s how court records describe the victim’s physical condition after the attack:
A team of doctors performed a five-hour craniotomy on Ms. Campuzano to remove multiple bone fragments, repair the ruptures in her brain coverings, and repair her anterior skull base fracture with mini plates, bone cement , and her own harvested tissue…Ms. Campuzano’s permanent injuries include impaired vision, damage to the retina of her right eye, cataracts in both eyes, destroyed left ear drum.
Ms. Campuzano, one of eight plaintiffs sharing the 300 million dollar award had this to say after Israel assassinated Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. ”I'm so happy they killed that son of a bitch. I was so excited, so excited. I hate them. They changed my life. As far as I'm concerned, they can kill them all."
As if all this pain and anger was not enough, Ms. Campuzano’s monetary award carries with it a tragic irony . Having converted to Judaism after the incident, her court victory is about to inflict serious damage to this ancient heritage. The Achaemenid artifacts about to be auctioned off are nothing to Islam and everything to Judaism.
1200 years before Islam, the Achaemenid king Cyrus freed the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. An unnamed prophet in the book of Isaiah says: Thus said the Lord to Cyrus, His anointed one…I call you by name. I hail you by title though you have not known Me (Isaiah 45). About the rebuilding of the Second Temple the book of Ezra says “Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of earth and has charged me with building him a house in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1). There are verses in Ezra about the rebuilding of the temple that hint at undiscovered stories reminiscent of the support of some modern Diapora Jews for the state of Israel. “All their neighbors [Jews who preferred to stay in the Achaemenid empire rather than move to Jerusalem] supported them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with livestock, and with precious objects…”
Who were the Jews who stayed behind? Clues to their stories are somewhere in Achaemenid archeology. The bible follows only a few. Esther became a beloved queen to the Achaemenid king Xerxes. Her uncle Mordechai became the prime minister to the Achamenid empire. An Achaemenid Disraeli. What about the important Iranian Jews that the bible does not mention? Fragments of their lives may have survived in those tablets. The Jewish festival of Purim began with Achaemenid Jews. This festival commemorates a palace intrigue full of political rivalry, romantic seduction, gratuitous violence, and in an outdated sense, justice. What are the juicy historical facts behind Purim? The answers may be encoded somewhere in those ten thousand Achaemenid tablets and artifacts about to be auctioned to private collectors.
It would be misleading to claim that this particular set of Achamenian artifacts contain the history of Achaemenid Judaism. But tiny clues can unravel big mysteries. A seal here, a symbol there, the clues may be in the meaning of the inscriptions, in the chemical composition of the tablet, on a bit of reed or a strand of hair stuck in the clay. Less dramatically, each bit of knowledge contributes to the critical mass needed for the chain reaction of understanding.
The details of the legal tragedy are complicated. Basically the Islamic Republic of Iran did not bother to show up as a defendant, and the plaintiffs won by default. The issue has caused the executive branch and the Judicial branch to lock legal horns so that at this point an act of congress is the most promising way to save these artifacts. Elected officials however do not wish to appear to be taking the side of Iran. To make the job more attractive congress needs to know that there is public support for it. In a predominantly Judeo-Christian nation, emphasizing the connection of these artifacts to the bible would make it more likely for congress to act.
On the International front, Iran has threatened to retaliate if the artifacts are auctioned. Retaliate how? One may worry. By further destroying humanity’s common heritage? Iran must make it clear that this is not the content of its threat. By taking a morally strong position Iran would make it easier to gain public support for the cause of keeping these artifacts where they belong, in universities and museums.
The state of Israel is paying Diana Campuzano’s medical bills. To add farsightedness to generosity Israel should do what it can to help save these Achaemenid artifacts from being cast into the winds of commerce. Not only are the artifacts relevant to her own history, Israel should keep in mind that Iran may not stay a radical Islamic Republic. When the time comes for Iran to reassess her policy towards Israel, the Achaemenid Cyrus would be pleased that the nation he once freed from slavery remembered him and returned his favor.
Esther’s Children A portrait of Iranian Jews.