Bias in the Meteor

By Anthony Weiss

Published April 07, 2006, issue of April 07, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

According to biblical literalists, the heavens have already rendered their opinion on Israel’s borders. But now, it seems, the skies are offering a second opinion.

On April 11 in New York, Bonhams & Butterfields is scheduled to auction off a series of meteorites, including a slice that looks suspiciously like Israel. A little distorted, perhaps, but you can make out the basics: the Negev, the Mediterranean coast, the Galilee — but no West Bank.

The 7 1/2-by-5-inch sliver is currently owned by Darryl Pitt, an irrepressible meteorite enthusiast and the proprietor of the Macovich Collection, which specializes in aesthetic meteorites. This specimen is particularly valuable, less for its cartographic contours than for its provenance. It is a slice off of the Willamette Meteorite, one of the world’s most famous, and a crown jewel of New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

Pitt obtained his piece of the meteorite through barter. In 1998, the museum decided to slice off a chunk of the Willamette to allow scientific study of the interior layers. Pitt picked up a few pieces in exchange for a hunk of Mars. (“It’s like trading baseball cards,” he quipped to the Forward.) When he sold some of the pieces later that year, the museum was criticized in the press for trading away a piece of such an important specimen. Museums have since cracked down on the practice.

“It’s so unusual to acquire part of the centerpiece of a major museum,” Pitt told the Forward. He estimated that the piece would sell for $8,000 to $10,000 — five to seven times its weight in gold.

Like Israel, the Willamette has been at the heart of ownership disputes. In 1902, Oregonian Ellis Hughes discovered the meteorite half-buried in nearby woods, dragged it onto his property, and displayed it to the public — and was promptly sued by his first customer. The customer, it so happened, was a lawyer for Oregon Iron & Steel, which owned those nearby woods.

The meteorite eventually made its way to the American Museum of Natural History. In 1991, Oregon schoolchildren started a national campaign to bring the Willamette back home to Oregon. After that failed, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde brought their own claim to the meteorite in 2000. After a flurry of lawsuits and countersuits, the tribe and the museum reached a compromise: The museum kept the meteorite, but once a year the Grand Ronde have visitation rights for a private ceremony with it.

What lessons on peacemaking does the Israel-shaped piece of the Willamette have to offer? That it exists at all is a slap in the face to Hamas, which still refuses to recognize Israel, even in its pre-1967 borders. The map does not include the West Bank — which will disappoint the settlers who oppose Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for an Israeli pullout. At the same time, the area does seem to include Gaza, despite Israel’s withdrawal from the strip last year, And, sorry, Avigdor Lieberman — leader of Israel’s ultranationalist Beitenu party and advocate for handing Israeli Arab villages to the Palestinians — but the regions of the Galilee appear to be intact.

In other words, something to disappoint everyone. Perhaps that’s the message from above.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.