Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Norwegian connection

DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT UPDATE: Hidden antiquities stash discovered in diplomatic car travelling from Jordan to Jerusalem. The local driver was arrested on antiquities smuggling charges last week and has been released on bail (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel). This story has already been noted here and here, but the most recent articles include comments on the incident from the Norwegian Embassy and corrects an error in the earlier reports:
Norway on Monday said it is holding an internal investigation into claims that an East Jerusalem driver for its envoy to the Palestinian Authority was arrested last week by Israel for allegedly attempting to smuggle antiquities into the West Bank from Jordan.

The Norwegian Embassy in Israel told The Times of Israel on Monday that the Foreign Ministry asked the embassy for permission to search the diplomatic car as the driver arrived at the Allenby Bridge crossing on May 31, after Israel had received “concrete information” that there was contraband aboard. (An earlier report incorrectly stated, based on a statement by a Tax Authority official, that the car was driving from the West Bank into Jordan. The Norwegian Embassy clarified that the Mercedes was en route to Jerusalem.)


But a spokesperson for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel in a statement that “the request to search the diplomatic vehicle, which enjoys diplomatic immunity, was presented to the Norwegian Embassy in Israel by the Chief of Protocol of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The embassy cooperated with the Israeli authorities and allowed the search under certain conditions, in line with established international practice,” the spokesman said.

“Norway takes this incident very seriously,” Norway’s mission in Tel Aviv said in an email. “We are aware that diplomatic vehicles from other missions have been subject to similar incidents. In addition to the handling by Israeli authorities, we have initiated an internal process.”

An article by Victoria Stapley-Brown in The Art Newspaper includes an important clarification:
A Norwegian diplomat was in the car when it was stopped, a spokesman for the Royal Norwegian Embassy confirmed to The Art Newspaper over email, but “was not accused of any involvement in the case”.