As custodians begin to pack up an exhibit of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls and ship them back to Israel, both the Palestinians and the Jordanians have demanded their seizure.
Both Jordan and the Palestinians have claimed custody over the historic Dead Sea Scrolls, currently on display at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Canada.
Israel's Antiquities Authority loaned 17 of the Dead Sea Scrolls along with other artifacts from the time of the Second Temple to the ROM as part of a six month display. The display, entitled "Words that Changed the World", ended on January 3.
"They are an integral part of Palestinian heritage," Hamdan Taha, Director of the Palestinian Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Department told The Media Line.
Taha said the Palestinians had demanded months ago that the Canadians close the exhibition and seize the artifacts until an international court could rule on their ownership.
The Jordanians have also reportedly claimed the priceless scrolls. Two weeks ago, the Globe and Mail reported that Jordanian officials had summoned the Canadian chargÃ© d'affaires in Amman to demand that Canada keep the scrolls until an international court can determine their rightful owner.
The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by saying that the disputed ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a matter for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians to resolve amongst themselves, and that it would not be proper for Canada to intervene, the newspaper said.
Canadian officials in Amman could not be reached for comment.
The Dead Sea scrolls consist of about 900 documents and biblical texts, whose discovery in the 1940's and 50's in caves in and around Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea was one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. 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. They also are seen as an insight into early Christianity.
Some of the scrolls were purchased from antiquity merchants by Israel and others made their way to the Rockefeller museum in east Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control from 1948 till captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
Taha said that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made an official request to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to not allow the display to open and to return the scrolls to Israel. Taha said that the Palestinian request had led to "a series of maneuvering" that removed it from the agenda. Eventually no reaction was given by the Canadians and the show went on.
Taha said that the motion was also aimed at making other countries think twice before putting the Israeli-controlled Dead Sea Scrolls on display.
"This isn't harassment," Taha said. "Harassment is the occupation of our land. These scrolls are of course Palestinian because they were found in Qumran which is located in the West Bank."
"They are an integral part of Palestinian heritage, its Jewish heritage. Palestine doesn't represent one layer but a multicultural history, that includes the Roman and other periods," Taha said. "Israel should be pleased that the Palestinians are showing concern for this period of our past."
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel return to them all artifacts uncovered in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said in response to the report that it had the right to loan the artifacts.
"The IAA presents the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Royal Ontario Museum according to the original agreement," a statement said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one official at IAA said that Israel has never claimed to "own" the scrolls, but is acting simply as their "custodians."