According to Sydney’s Sun-Herald last Sunday, a Byzantine mosaic dating from the reign of Emperor Justinian,, was removed from the ruins of a church near Gaza by Australian soldiers in 1917.
There is a danger that Australia will be found in a similar position to that of Britain, which was accused of the stolen Parthenon Marbles.
Two writers/researchers are now arguing that “the Australians knew that their act was looting”. These are Paul Daley (journalist of this newspaper) and Michael Bowers, who in their new book raise questions about the “continuing occupation of this priceless object. “The mosaic belongs to the collection of the Australian War Memorial since 1941.
The legal expert in such matters, Professor Ben Boer, from the Law School of Sydney University, said that the removal of an ancient monument is a crime under international law.
“In general, one can say that the action of the soldiers may be a violation of the laws and customs of the war,” said the Professor. But, he added, “Australia at the time, in April 1917, did not seem to be captive of these laws.” Mr. Boer also said that in accordance with international law, the Australian Government is not obliged to return the mosaic to its rightful owner. “The question of whether Australia should return it, is moral rather than legal,” he said, whereas “it seems unlikely at this stage to put forward a request for its return.”