FIRST ISRAELI ARAB MARITIME ARCHEOLOGIST RETURNS HOME

“I feel as though I am living two lives,” Dr. Hassan Khalilieh said. “I am a Moslem Arab, but I have been influenced by Jewish society and culture as I work and study at the University of Haifa.”

The speaker is a Lecturer in Maritime Civilizations at the University, the same department that awarded him a Master’s degree. He then went on to gain his doctorate from Princeton University, which had awarded him a full fellowship (see Focus Spring 91), picking up a second M.A. on the way. The 32-year-old Khalilieh has now returned home in more ways than one. He still lives in the small village where he grew up, located near Nazareth, where he was born.

After finishing high school, he spent three years working at the Haifa Refineries. Khalilieh then applied to the University and became the first, and so far the only, member of his traditional family to seek higher education.

“I am the eldest in my family, but I did not succeed in getting any of my brothers and or sisters to follow my interest in education,” Khalilieh said. “I now find there is a big gap between us, especially in socializing and dealing with people. I would be happier if, for example, my brothers would allow my sisters more freedom.”

At the University, the budding scholar studied Archeology and Middle Eastern History. “I had always loved archeology, and a trip to Egypt gave me the incentive to apply to the University. The reason I changed to Maritime Civilizations for my Master’s was due to Dr. Elisha Linder [now director of the ancient ship project in the Center for Marine Studies], who gave me the motivation to become the first Arab in this field.” He also singled out his former thesis advisor, Dr. Michal Artzy, for her encouragement.

The trip to Princeton, was not only his first visit to a Western country, but also his first flight. “I had no problems in adapting to my new environment, especially in the academic world,” Khalilieh continued. “Although even in the States, I experienced difficulties socially as a Moslem Israeli Arab. Many people I met during my years in America could not understand how I could consider myself both an Israeli and a Moslem Arab.”

Khalilieh is working on two books: one with his dissertation advisor at Princeton, Prof. Abraham Udovitch, on Islamic maritime law; and the second with Mr. Ya’akov Kahanov, Lecturer in the Maritime Civilizations Department and curator of the ancient ship museum. The second project emanated from the discovery of seven ships north of Caesarea. Two of the ships are from the early medieval Islamic period and the others are from the Roman Byzantine period. “We are hoping to shed more light on the construction of ships in medieval Islam,” he commented.

His doctoral dissertation on medieval Islamic maritime law has been accepted for publication, and the Department of Overseas Studies also benefits from Khalilieh’s expertise. He has given a course on “Legal Issues in Islamic Law,” which explores the history and development of Islamic theology and jurisprudence from the rise of Islam to the modern 20th century.

At a recent conference at the University on Jews and shipping, Khalilieh spoke on the salvaging of cargo from the sea in accordance with Islamic law. His sources included manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza.

Salvage in Islamic Law

Maritime salvage, Khalilieh said, sounding more like a lawyer than an archeologist, could become the object of disputes for a number of reasons, such as whether goods were thrown overboard during a gale in order to lighten the ship’s ballast, or perhaps they were cast ashore because of a shipwreck. Muslim jurists did not reach any consensus as to the ownership of salvage from shipwrecks. If, though, goods were found on either the surface or the bottom of the sea, he said, they were not considered derelict property, and they had to be delivered to the rightful owners. The latter, in turn, were required to reward the salvager for his efforts.

Islamic law, in the main, was unlike Latin law, the lecturer pointed out, illustrating his presentation with quotes from actual cases and letters found in the Geniza. It did not allow a salvager to claim a certain percentage of the salvaged goods although the rightful owner had to pay any expenses that the salvager might have incurred for labor, transportation, storage, and so forth. Regardless of the religious affiliation of the merchant, Islamic law ruled that salvaged cargo should be turned over to the real owner or, if he had drowned, to the court of his religious community in order to be transmitted to his legal heirs.

If the salvager transgressed this rule by selling or retaining the cargo, he would have to pay a penalty corresponding to the value of the salvaged objects. Only if the owners did not come forward after a set period of time could the salvager claim private ownership of his discovery. The amount of time depended on the value of the articles.

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