Dead Sea Scrolls stir storm at ROM
ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY
A scrap of non-biblical Hebrew text from the first century CE, originally discovered in 1956.
Choose text size
Report typo or correction
Email the author
License this article
PHOTOS: THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Palestinian PM wants Harper to scrap show, claims violation of
Apr 09, 2009 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (73)
MIDDLE EAST BUREAU
JERUSALEM–A planned Toronto exhibit of ancient Middle Eastern manuscripts is threatening to
plunge Canada, along with the Royal Ontario Museum, into the thick of the long-running conflict
between Israelis and Palestinians.
Beginning in June, the ROM will host a six-month exhibit of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls,
organized in co-operation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
But top Palestinian officials this week declared the exhibit a violation of international law and
called on Canada to cancel the show.
In letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and top executives at the ROM, senior Palestinian
officials argue the scrolls – widely regarded as among the great archaeological discoveries of the
20th century – were acquired illegally by Israel when the Jewish state annexed East Jerusalem
quot;The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian
territories,quot; said Hamdan Taha, director-general of the archaeological department in the
Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
quot;I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance
with Canada's obligations.quot;
The Palestinians say the planned ROM exhibit violates at least four international conventions or
protocols on the treatment of cultural goods that were illegally obtained.
Both Canada and Israel are signatories to all of the agreements, the Palestinians say.
The letter of protest sent this week to Harper was signed by Salam Fayyad, prime minister of
the Palestinian Authority and its second-in-command. The letter to the ROM bore the signature
of Khouloud Daibes, minister of tourism and antiquities.
quot;I'm just hearing about this issue,quot; William Thorsell, CEO of the ROM, said yesterday. quot;I do
understand the Palestinians are making an issue of the ownership. But I'm quite certain the
scrolls fall within the parameters of the law.quot;
Officials at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs had no immediate response to the matter
when contacted yesterday by the Star.
The scrolls were discovered in 11 caves on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, mostly
between 1947 and 1956, and their ownership has long been a matter of fierce dispute between
Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
quot;We are the custodians of the Dead Sea Scrolls,quot; said Pnina Shor, head of the artifacts
treatment and conservation department at the Israel Antiquities Authority. quot;As such, we have a
right to exhibit them and to conserve them.quot;
Written mostly on parchment and partly on papyrus, the scrolls number about 900 manuscripts
in all and mouldered undisturbed for roughly 20 centuries until their accidental discovery in 1947
by a young Bedouin Arab.
The timing of the find all but coincided with the establishment of Israel as an independent state
and struck a deeply resonant chord among Jews, for the scrolls themselves, as well as their
content and their origins, seemed to confirm an ancient Jewish bond with the Holy Land,
reaching back to the destruction of the second Jewish temple in 70 AD – and beyond.
quot;The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls represents a turning point in the study of the history of
the Jewish people in ancient times,quot; explains a passage of text on the website of the Israel
Museum, which nowadays provides a permanent home for the scrolls, quot;for never before has such
a literary treasure of such magnitude come to light.quot;
The caves containing the scrolls were located near Qumran, in what is now the Palestinian West
Beginning in 1947, and for nearly a decade, experts from the Rockefeller Museum in East
Jerusalem, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and the École biblique et archéologique
française excavated the caves and salvaged the scrolls, only a few of which were found whole.
The rest were scattered into thousands of fragments.
Written mainly in Hebrew, and partly in Aramaic and Greek, the scrolls include about 200 copies
of portions of the Jewish Bible.
At first, the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under
Jordanian control at the time.
After the 1967 Six Day War, however, Israel unilaterally absorbed the eastern sections of the
city, an act most Western nations – including Canada – regard as illegal under international law.
The Israelis removed the scrolls from East Jerusalem and took them to the western city, where
According to Shor at the Israel Antiquities Authority, portions of the scrolls frequently have been
put on display in other countries – including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany,
and Australia – over the past 10 years or so.
The protest to Canada may be a test case for the Palestinians.
quot;This issue has never been raised, so far as I know, in the past,quot; said Thorsell.
The Palestinians say the scrolls are among quot;millionsquot; of artifacts Israel has removed illegally
from Palestinian territory since 1967.
The planned exhibition at the ROM is called the Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the
World. It is set to run from June 27 to Jan. 3.