In April, the Palestinian Authority officials sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that the exhibition be cancelled.Background here and keep following the links back.
They challenge the Israel Antiquities Authority’s right to display materials removed from Palestinian territories, alleging at least four international conventions and protocols addressing the treatment of cultural goods, agreements to which Israel and Canada are signatories, are being violated.
The controversy sparked at least two protests in front of the museum calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions in light of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
John Van Seters, a distinguished biblical scholar and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina who is now living in Waterloo, said the protesters’ concerns must be taken seriously.
Van Seters doesn’t dispute the authenticity or importance of the scrolls. But some scholars, Van Seters included, believe such exhibitions shouldn’t be patronized.
“If they were taken, as the allegations suggest, from the . . . Palestine archeological museum in East Jerusalem, then they should be returned and they should not be sent out by Israel around the world to be put on display as being on loan from them,” he said.
“By accepting them and putting them on display, one only legitimizes and confirms the ownership of these materials that have been confiscated from their rightful owner.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority argues it is the custodian of the scrolls and has the right to display them.
And in response to the protests, the museum has posted a statement on its website indicating that the Israel Antiquities Authority has lent the scrolls to numerous libraries, galleries and museums, including the Vatican, during the past 20 years.
Lawrence Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, said protesters are using the scrolls to advance a political argument.
The scrolls are a cultural treasure that should be shared, he added.
In past years people were in an uproar because those who controlled them didn’t share them.
“Now it has been published. And it’s being exhibited. And the world is being allowed to benefit from this important part of our culture,” Schiffman said.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
MORE DEBATE about the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum: Hebrew Bible scholar John Van Seters and Scrolls specialist Larry Schiffman are quoted in a review of the exhibition in The Record.