Dead Sea Scrolls do not belong to Israel, Germany says

The Israel Antiquities Authority refuses to allow the scrolls to leave Israel due to Germany's decision, prompting the cancellation of a Bible Museum exhibit.

Visitors look at a facsimile of the Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, displayed inside the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem September 26, 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Visitors look at a facsimile of the Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, displayed inside the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem September 26, 2011.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor of Frankfurt, expressed outrage on Thursday over the German government's decision not to recognize the Dead Sea Scrolls as Israeli property, prompting the cancellation of a slated 2019 exhibit at the Bible Museum in Frankfurt.
"If Germany is unwilling to clearly express the legal status of the fragments of Qumran as Israeli world cultural heritage goods, it would dramatically change the coordinates in our German-Israeli relations. And it would mean the construction of a wall toward the places of the birth of Christianity in the holy country, because it would be the same for Bethlehem, Jericho, east Jerusalem and many other places of Jesus' work," Becker told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Archeologists vs robbers in race to find Dead Sea scrolls in June 2016, preventing archeology and antiquities theft(credit: REUTERS)
Becker said,"I am criticizing both ministries for damaging German-Israeli relations. I have written letters to both ministers, expressing my deep irritation and ask both to change their new position and to support the work of the exhibition."
Becker sent his letter to Monika Grütters, minister of culture and media, and German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is currently in Washington promoting the preservation of the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
Becker added, "Because of the unwillingness of both ministries to give the necessary declaration, as Qumran lies in today's West Bank, the Israel Antiques Authority is not letting the material out of the country and the Bible Museum had to cancel its plans."
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in twelve caves around the site known as Wadi Qumran near the Dead Sea in the disputed West Bank territory between 1946 and 1956.
Dr. Jürgen Schefzyk, the director of the Bible House Museum in Frankfurt, wrote the Post by email on Friday: "Following a 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Israel Antiquities Authority concerning cooperation with the Bible Museum Frankfurt we started to work on an exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The precondition for such an exhibition is an 'Immunity from Seizure' document issued by the German authorities. For reasons that are not in our hand we are at present unable to provide such a document despite all efforts including contacts to all governmental institutions in Germany."
He added, "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.
In order to demonstrate our loyalty with Israel and our most important partner, the IAA, we decided yesterday not to continue with this project and to postpone the exhibit until DSS 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."
"The Qumran scandal is not acceptable," said Becker about Germany's refusal to protect the Dead Sea Scrolls in Frankfurt.
Becker said that European states in the past have, in comparable cases, issued 'Immunity from Seizure' protections to Israel for exhibits from the Jewish state that appear in the EU. He cited Austria and the Netherlands as examples. Becker, widely considered one of Israel's strongest supporters in the federal republic, led a legislative effort to ban BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) activity against Israel in Frankfurt.
Becker said that the German government's decision to not guarantee a return of the Dead Sea Scrolls also damages Germany's relations to Christianity in the Middle East. He noted that in consideration of "Palestinian sensitivities the special relationship to Israel weighs more significantly."
The Dead Sea Scrolls carry great significance to Judaism and biblical history. The scrolls are a large cache of mostly Hebrew writings from the Second Temple period and its immediate aftermath. They include many biblical texts and are believed to have been penned by members of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes.