Friday, January 1, 2010

Jordan Asks Canada To Confiscate Dead Sea Scrolls

On the eve of 2010, the Jordanian government sent a diplomatic note to the Canadian government asking it to seize an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls which are currently on loan from Israel to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto. The basis for this request is that some of the scrolls had been housed in a Jordanian run museum in East Jerusalem until it was taken by Israel in 1967. Jordan claims that under a Protocol to the Hague Convention on the protection of cultural property, the Dead Sea Scrolls, having been taken from a museum that was under their control, should be--if not returned to Jordan--taken into Canadian custody until the dispute can be resolved.

The international legal document in question says that if a cultural property is "exported" from a country that has come into its possession from the occupation of a territory, then that 'importing' country should seize the property in question. This is what Jordan is asking. The Israeli position on this case, is that the scrolls have not actually been "exported." The Canadian law that came into force to ratify (for Canada) the Hague Protocols also speaks of the "export" of cultural property, but does not actually define the word "export." Canadian courts, however, have, albeit in different contexts. For example in this case, the courts have said that to export generally must have a commercial purpose of some kind, or at least have the intention of an item being permanently sent from one country to another. The case of a museum exhibit loaned from one country to another would therefore not meet the definition of export and so, it would appear that the international and domestic legal provisions relating to cultural goods do not hold up.


A few other points should be made about this latest request. The first one could be termed Jordanian "interest" in the dead sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls are a cultural document that relate to Jewish culture. They include almost the entirety of the old testament and though they were found in territory that Jordan occupied, their link to a distinct Jordanian culture seems dubious. One could make a similar claim about Roman artifacts found in Israel, or in any other part of what was the Roman empire, for example, by suggesting their return to Italy. The presence of these artifacts do not necessarily relate to the culture of the modern state, but may speak to the history of that part of the world. The scrolls do, however, relate directly to Jewish history and the history of the Jewish people. Even if the law were to apply in this case, the results of its application would seem to be an absurd situation: documents, related to the Jewish people would be seized by Canada because another country, whose connection to the scrolls is geographical, questions whether artifacts of Jewish history belong in the custody of a Jewish state.


Moreover, the Jordanian interest in the scrolls seems to be somewhat new. If the scrolls were taken from Jordan in 1967, why has Jordan not been actively pursuing this claim more vocally since then? Jordan may have addressed cultural property when it made peace with Israel in 1994, but did not. Jordan could also have made similar diplomatic requests to the many countries where the scrolls have been exhibited since 1993. This does not seem to be the case either.


One reason for this new interest from Jordan may be the result of Palestinian pressure on Jordan to act. The Palestinian Authority, not being a state, is not a party to the protocol on cultural property the way Jordan is. When the exhibition in Toronto first opened, Palestinians protested that the scrolls had been illegaly taken from "Palestinian territories." They thought the entire exhibition was illegal and should be cancelled. To this claim, the same question can be asked: what is the Palestinian interest in obtaining what is clearly a Jewish document, especially when the Jewish state is and has been a good steward of these precious archaeological documents. The answer may be political.


If the scrolls were returned to Jordan, this would be an admission that at the time they were taken by Israel, Jordan was rightly sovereign over the land that they were taken from. Similarly, if the Palestinian claim that the scrolls should be returned to Palestine is upheld, then there is an acknowledgement that the land from which they were taken is Palestinian, not Israeli. In other words, the argument being made by Palestinians and Jordanians is that the scrolls belong to whoever held the land they were taken from (in this case, east Jerusalem) and so if it is found that the scrolls are Palestinian, then the land must be Palestinian too. The interest may be less about the scrolls and more about the land. Like the land, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are saying that they don't know to whom it belongs, but they're quite sure that it's not Israel.


Of course, it's not Jordan either. The ironic element in this whole episode is that the last sovereign power over both the area the scrolls were taken from and East Jerusalem (prior to the unrecognized Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem) was probably the Ottoman Empire. When that empire collapsed, the British took over, but their status was as a mandatary--a guardian--not a sovereign. After the British, Jerusalem was to be international and the West Bank, Arab. In 1948 Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in much the same way that Israel does now. So, the scrolls would be...Turkish?


For Canada's part, Foreign Affairs and International trade seems to be indicating that they're staying out of this one, and it seems, may just do nothing.

10 comments:

cba said...

"The interest may be less about the scrolls and more about the land."

May be about the land?? I'd say it's a dead certainty that's what it's about.

Maggie M. Thornton said...

Everyone agrees that the scrolls are Jewish - originated by a Jewish sect(s).

There is no Palestinian ethnicity, or Jordan ethnicity for that matter.

The time for coddling the Palestinian claim should have long been over. They are where they are today only because the Brits appeased Muslims and took land clearly desginated for Israel from Israel at statehood.

Israel needs to protect these scrolls at all cost. We know that Palestine has little interest in antiquity. They've spent a lifetime destroying it.

mrzee said...

I'm not so sure it is about land. The scrolls are strong evidence of a Jewish historical connection to the area, a connection they palestinians claim doesn't exist. If they ever get their hands on the scrolls, I doubt they'd ever be publicly displayed anywhere. If they were accidentally lost or destroyed I wouldn't a bit surprised.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Maggie M. Thornton:

"took land clearly desginated(sic) for Israel from Israel at statehood"

Kindly elaborate who exactly "clearly" designated that land for Israel? Firstly, if it was so 'clearly' designated, we wouldn't be in this mess now, would we? As for the "Designator" himself, I sincerely hope you will not reply by saying it's G-D Himself. I don't think that particular gentleman has expressed a single clear intention from the moment He was created in some overimaginative neolithic imagination. I am very curious to know where you get your clarity of knowledge? I know of other individuals of other religious persuasions who seem and profess an equally inpressive clarity of knowledge as the one you profess, but, alas for us all, to other ends and conclusions. So? Who is right? I hope you will answer this last question bu simply saying: because G-D told me so!

A friend.

Maggie M. Thornton said...

@ a Friend: the League of Nations designated 124,466 sq. km to the soon-to-be-Israel. Thanks to the Brits and Mufti of Jerusalem, in the end, Israel received 28,166 sq km, or 23% of the original mandate, and then even less by the time control passed to the U.N.

The creation of an Arab state in eastern Palestine (today Jordan) on 77 percent of the landmass of the original Mandate intended for a Jewish National Home in no way changed the status of Jews west of the Jordan River, nor did it inhibit their right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Arabs never accepted any land for Israel. At the same time, Arabs blocked their own formation of a Palestinian state.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Maggie M, Thornton:

Thank you for your detailed response. That's an answer I can live with, even though I disagree as to some of the details. For example, the reference to current day Jordan as then "Eastern Palestine", and current day Israel and West Bank and Gaza as "Western Palestine", I disagree with. I don't recall having read or seen such appellations in any of the relevant history books on the subject. I would be curious to know where you got these?

However, what I retain from your answer, ultimately, is that the Designator is not G-D, but a group of Humans, sitting around some table, deciding the fate of other Humans. There is therefore nothing inherently divine about it.

If your answer is complete, and that 'clearly designated" means "UN designated" or otherwise Man imposed, then there is nothing immutable or divine about the outcome or the delimitations, and these can be changed at any time in the future, if circumstances or demographics change, correct?

The local Arab population (I remind you both Muslim and Christian) had every right to object to the separation of the land into two separate entities, imposed by an outside power, when such a separation was alien to the entire 5000 year history of those Few Hills and a Desert.

(Please see the next comment for the rest. The site did not accept the whole comment in its entirety... too long.)

A friend

Anonymous said...

REST OF THE PREVIOUS COMMENT:

By no means do I want to make facile comparisons, but consider the following (And I beg you to be patient, I don't mean to be wordy on purpose) :

Professor Samuel P. Huntington in his book: "Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity", (2004), regarding the meaning of American national identity and the possible cultural threat posed to it by large-scale Latino immigration, warns that it will "divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages", and that by 2050-60 almost fully half of the U.S. population will be Latino.

Now, before the American expansion into the West from the Thirteen colonies, almost the entire region from Florida, along the Gulf Coast (except for Louisiana), then across New Mexico and then all the way up to California was Spanish territory and populated, albeit sparsely at places, by Spanish speaking people, and had been so for a couple hundred years already.

The current Latino immigration into the U.S.A., both Legal and Illegal, is concentrated in these states, and interestingly enough, some Latino's (half jokingly I believe) call this Immigration the Reconquista (reminiscent of the reconquest of Al-Andalus by the Spanish from the Arabs).

Now, let's consider that in 50 years, social tensions in the USA reach a boiling point and open conflict erupts between the Latino and English populations. This conflict is so dangerous that the United Nations (or some future similar international body) steps in and decides that the best solution is to divide the United States of America into two separate states, along linguistic lines, one Spanish and one English speaking. As one of the motivations for the UN decision to split the USA in two states, is the fact that the territory for the proposed future Latino Nation is based on the historical limits of the territory of pre-USA Spanish America, and therefore, their "ancestral" rights to that territory.

Then, the Spanish speakers endorse this deal but the English reject it, and then the English are faulted for refusing it and for fighting to preserve the integrity of the unified land. What would be your position then? Would you, personally, endorse separation of the United States into two separate states, based on the decision of outsiders? or fight to keep it whole? And if you lose the first fight, would you give up and live in peace, or join a militia and continue fighting to reclaim what you consider was stolen unjustly? And in that fight to reclaim the land, what means and weapons would you use?

I know these are hypotheticals piled atop hypotheticals (speculative fiction almost), but it's the only way I can put you in Arab shoes; If for a minute you are able to put yourself in Arab shoes in 1947, and even today, and manage (somehow) not to see the word Terrorist next to the word Arab, and ask yourself, why have these people fought so long and hard for that land and refused to accept what outsiders have imposed, I think you might end up seeing the conflict in a different light.

A friend.

cba said...

Anonymous, you said:
"For example, the reference to current day Jordan as then "Eastern Palestine", and current day Israel and West Bank and Gaza as "Western Palestine", I disagree with. I don't recall having read or seen such appellations in any of the relevant history books on the subject. I would be curious to know where you got these?"

I suggest you Google the British Mandate for Palestine, and then read about how the emirate of Transjordan (now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) came into being.

Anonymous said...

Dear CBA:

I followed your suggestion. I still not quite sure what you mean. I am aware of how the current Kingdom of Jordan came into existence. In fact, it was created from what was called Transjordan, a politically distinct region from then Palestine during Ottoman times, and which was incorporated administratively into the Palestine Mandate under British administration.

If you read this text in Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transjordan, it is clear that Transjordan and Palestine are quite distinct. There is a helpful little map that clearly refers to Palestine as the Palestine I know (meaning current day Israel, Gaza and the West Bank) and Transjordan as separate. I have not been able to find a reference to Jordan or Transjordan and being Eastern Palestine or the region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river as Western Palestine.

I've even checked some of the accepted history books on the subject written by Israelis (see: Righteous Victims, Benny Morris, and Israel: A History, by Martin Gilbert, and I haven't found such an appellation either.

I believe that if one is throw around numbers like: "someone is to receive this or that percent from this or that piece of land", I think it's important that we agree as to the what piece of land one is actually talking about.

I think that what Ms. Maggie M. Thornton is referring to is what some early Zionists were hoping to get as a Jewish state, a state that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, rather than from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. This idea was unrealistic and unachievable, and was quickly abandoned by the likes of Ben Gurion as being against the principles of Zionism because it would mean the creation of a de facto Arab Muslim state, in which Jews will forever be but a minority. As for the British, they were not able to deliver such a Greater Israel, considering the Arab revolt in Iraq and the demographic advantage in favour of the Arabs is such a large territory.

I am still curious to know where one finds a reference to Eastern Palestine and Western Palestine?

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