Israel has pulled out of a planned exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a Frankfurt museum after the German government refused to guarantee their return if claimed by Palestinians or Jordanians.
The exhibit was scheduled to open in September of 2019 at the The Frankfurt Bible Museum. The museum’s director, Jürgen Schefzyk, told The Jerusalem Post he regretted the German government’s decision, and announced his decision to postpone the exhibit until the matter can be resolved. “Although fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls would be available from secure museum collections elsewhere in Germany, we agree with the expertise of our Israeli and German colleagues that an exhibition without samples from the collection in Jerusalem would not be appropriate,” he said. “In order to demonstrate our loyalty to Israel and our most important partner, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, we decided yesterday not to continue with this project and to postpone the exhibit until Dead Sea Scrolls fragments from Jerusalem would be available. This decision was not easy for us since a lot of funds have been already invested and we are convinced that it is about time to show the German public these important objects of cultural heritage.”
In the past, other European nations, including Austria and the Netherlands, have issued “immunity from seizure” guarantees, making similar exhibitions possible. But as Qumran, the site of the scrolls’ original discovery, lies about a mile northwest of the Dead Sea in the Judean desert, the German government refuses to guarantee it will dismiss any future claims by Palestinian or Jordanian activists that the scrolls are Palestinian or Jordanian property. Palestinian activists argue that as the scrolls were discovered in the West Bank, they are Palestinian property, even as they are clearly a historical relic of an ancient Jewish sect and even if the scrolls were originally discovered in 1946, when Qumran, like the rest of mandatory Palestine, was under British control. Similarly, Jordanian activists are arguing that many of the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, which, they say, makes the scrolls Jordan’s purloined property. Boris Rhein, the culture minister from the German state of Hesse, told the German press last week that Germany’s Foreign Ministry and federal commissioner for cultural affairs believe that the ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is unclear.
Uwe Becker, Frankfurt’s deputy mayor, said in an interview that the German government’s actions may mean a rocky diplomatic future for both nations. “If Germany is unwilling to clearly express the legal status of the fragments of Qumran as Israeli world cultural heritage goods,” he said, “it would dramatically change the coordinates in our German-Israeli relations.”