Dead Sea scrolls display scrapped amid fears artefacts wouldn't be returned to Israel

German government fails to guarantee scrolls would be protected from Palestinian ownership claim


A German museum has been forced to cancel a Dead Sea scrolls exhibition — in case Palestinians try to lay claim to the manuscripts. 

The Frankfurt Bible Museum was intending to display sections of the scrolls, due to be flown in from Israel. But plans have been scrapped after the museum could not secure the necessary guarantees from the German authorities to ensure that Israel would get the scrolls back.

Martin Pielstocker, who was due to curate the exhibition, told the JC: “It had to be cancelled due to political problems with the German government.” 

He said: “To realise such an exhibition the Israeli government asks for an immunity guarantee to ensure items come back but this has not been issued.” 

The guarantee would have meant that Germany would have dismissed any claims by Palestinian activists that the scrolls, part of the Israeli state collection, are Palestinian-owned. But the German authorities were not prepared to issue the guarantee.

Boris Rhein, the culture minister from the state of Hesse, was quoted by German news agencies saying that Germany’s Foreign Ministry and federal commissioner for cultural affairs believe that the ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is unclear. 

The scrolls, discovered in the Qumran Caves during the 20th century, date from biblical times and comprise handwritten manuscripts of great historical and religious importance. 

Palestinians and their supporters argue that as they were discovered in the West Bank, this makes them Palestinian by rights, even though the area was in British hands at the time, 

They also claim the Rockefeller Museum, in east Jerusalem where a significant number of scrolls were housed, was in Arab hands before 1967. Israel captured the museum, and the scrolls held there, in the Six-Day War in 1967.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the situation. Eyal Regev, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert at Bar Ilan University, said the scrolls have been politicised by people who know little about their actual content. “For those who are not really interested in the scrolls, they are a political matter,” he said. “They have become an excuse for people to rase a political issue everywhere they can.”

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