Arabs Claim Dead Sea Scrolls
Arabs Claim Dead Sea Scrolls

The Toronto-based Globe and Mail reports that Jordan has asked Canada to seize Israel's 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls that are currently on display in Toronto. The scrolls are on display until until Sunday at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Jordan claims that the scrolls were found in "disputed territory" that Israel captured from Jordanian control in 1967, and asks Canada to hold them until the question of their ownership is settled. Jordan's control of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley - which it called the "West Bank" - from 1948 until 1967, was recognized internationally by only two countries: Great Britain and Pakistan.

A spokesperson for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said that “differences regarding ownership of the Dead Sea scrolls should be addressed by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. It would not be appropriate for Canada to intervene as a third party.” The Globe and Mail reports that even if Canada ignores the request, "it will make other countries think twice before accepting the controversial exhibit."

Jordan made its demand two weeks ago, summoning the Canadian chargé d'affaires in Amman. Citing the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Jordan claims that Israel acted illegally after 1967 when it took the scrolls from the Rockefeller Museum in eastern Jerusalem and transferred them to the Israel Museum. The Palestinian Authority made a similar request several months ago.

The Dead Sea scrolls are about 900 documents and Biblical texts, discovered in one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century in the 1940's and 50's in caves in and around Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. The texts include some of the only known surviving copies of Biblical documents made before 100 B.C.E., and preserve evidence of Jewish life during the Second Temple period.

Israel's Side

Israel has never claimed to "own" the scrolls, but is acting simply as their "custodians," an Israel Antiquities Authority spokesperson said, and "as such, we have a right to exhibit them and to conserve them.” Israel also argues that short-term, temporary exhibitions of scrolls in another country are not forbidden under the Hague Convention, and that all the scrolls in its possession are part of Jewish heritage.

The Globe and Mail reports that the PA acknowledges that the scrolls are Jewish, but claims that they are "also part of Palestinian heritage just as ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins comprise part of their history."

Claims of this nature are belied by the fact that the contemporary "Palestinian nation" began, if at all, only in recent years. The only time the land once known as "Palestine" was ruled by an Arab sovereign was for about 22 years in the 7th century C.E. "The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 [C.E.] hardly lasted, as such, 22 years...," the Muslim chairman of the Syrian Delegation attested in his remarks to the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919.

New Arab Nation "Formed"

In addition, as documented by several works, including "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, most of the Arab populace that today occupies the Holy Land is made up of immigrants from various Arab countries. They arrived over the course of the decades that preceded the formation of the State of Israel - and many of them were attracted by the economic growth and opportunities engendered by the area's growing Jewish presence.

"Existence of Palestinian Entity Serves Only Tactical Purposes"

Famously, a top member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Zuheir Muhsin, who headed the organization's Military Department and was a member of its Executive Council, said in March 1977, "Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel... "