A Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit scheduled to take place in 2019 at the Bible Museum in Frankfurt has been cancelled after the German government refused to recognize the historic manuscripts as Israeli property.
According to the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German government has not issued a legally binding restitution guarantee to Israel that would block the Palestinians from claiming the Dead Sea Scrolls as their own, thus preventing their return to Israel.
Jürgen Schefzyk, director of Frankfurt’s Bible Museum, told The Jerusalem Post that his museum had been preparing the exhibit since 2015, but that “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,” said Schefzyk.
Boris Rhein, the culture minister for the German state of Hesse, explained that Germany’s Foreign Ministry and the country’s federal commissioner for culture are uncertain of the Israeli claim to the scrolls.
“I would like to have given the restitution assurance to the state of Israel,” Rhein said, Hessenchau.de reported.
Frankfurt’s deputy mayor, Uwe Becker, said the German government’s actions could damage Germany-Israel relations.
“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,” Becker told The Jerusalem Post.
“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,” he added.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of Israel’s most treasured archaeological possessions, were found in caves in Qumran in the Judean Desert in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd. Currently housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the scrolls, which date back to the Second Temple period, include some of the earliest copies of the Hebrew Bible ever found and serve as proof of the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has attempted to claim ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls and has been reportedly planning to demand that UNESCO order Israel to surrender the manuscripts.