By Khetam Malkawi
January 5 2010
AMMAN – Jordan has not received an official response from Canada regarding a request to seize the Dead Sea Scrolls that were displayed at a museum in Toronto until Sunday, a senior official said.
Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Maha Khatib was responding to news published in some news websites that the Canadian government has announced it will not act upon Amman’s request to seize the two-millennia-old scrolls. The Kingdom will not respond until receiving an official response, the official said.
According to Khatib, the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has requested Canada to take custody of the scrolls, citing the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both Jordan and Canada are signatories.
The Hague Convention, which is concerned with safeguarding cultural property during wartime, requires each signatory “to take into its custody cultural property imported into its territory either directly or indirectly from any occupied territory. This shall either be effected automatically upon the importation of the property or, failing this, at the request of the authorities of that territory”.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on Monday reported that “the Canadian government says it will not act upon a request by the Jordanian government that it seize the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, now on their last day of display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto”.
It added that “the 100,000 fragments of ancient religious parchment and papyrus manuscripts have been a source of conflict between Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians – who all claim ownership”.
Canadian diplomats in Amman could not be reached for comment.
But the Globe and Mail quoted the Canadian ministry of foreign affairs as 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”.
Khatib told The Jordan Times that Israel took the scrolls from a museum in Jerusalem, during the 1967 war, which resulted in the occupation of the holy city and the rest of the West Bank, which was part of the Kingdom then.
The minister, who stressed that the government has documents proving that the scrolls belong to Jordan, said “claiming these scrolls belong to Israel is illegitimate, as is the occupation of Jerusalem, as far as Jordan is concerned”.
“We have documents to prove that we bought these scrolls from bedouins living in the area northwest of the Dead Sea who discovered them,” Khatib explained.
International law expert Ibrahim Jazy told The Jordan Times that Jordan, Canada and Israel are signatory to the Hague Convention and should abide by its obligations as state parties.
But he noted that there are no sanctions imposed on “state parties” that violate the provisions of the convention.
“The articles related to sanctions and penalties only allow state parties to prosecute individuals, rather than states, that breach the convention,” explained Jazy, who is a professor of international law at the University of Jordan.
However, according to Jazy, Jordan can alert UNESCO, as the UN body responsible for the implementation of this convention, but only after it can legally prove its ownership of the scrolls.
The Palestinian Authority has also requested custody of the scrolls. Palestinian officials could not be reached for a comment, but Media Line, a US-based news agency, quoted Director of the Palestinian Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Department Hamdan Taha as saying that the ancient documents “are an integral part of the Palestinian heritage”.
He added 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. Jazy said the court with jurisdiction over the case is the International Court of Justice, acknowledging, however, that the case would be complicated.
According to Ontario museum’s website, the Dead Sea Scrolls are widely considered among the greatest archaeological finds of the past century. They include the earliest written sources for the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), as well as other less well known writings.