URGENT: Protest ROM decision to display stolen antiquities

The Dead Sea scrolls, confiscated from East Jerusalem during Israel’s 1967 military invasion and occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, are coming to Toronto. The move is part of Israel consul general Amir Gissin’s official “Brand Israel” campaign that attempts to ‘rebrand’ apartheid Israel beyond its systematic repression of the Palestinian people.

Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of precious artifacts have been illegally removed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), Israeli soldiers, and illegally operating antiquities dealers from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. These removals of the joint cultural heritage of the region are in direct contravention of at least four international conventions or protocols on the treatment of illegally obtained cultural goods.

Please stand up and let the ROM know that you do not accept the right of museums to display illegally obtained artifacts stolen from occupied territories. The history of such theft and dispossession is a sad legacy of colonial history that Canada and its museums have also been complicit in. It is time to begin reversing this legacy by canceling the current exhibit in accordance with the precepts of international law and refusing to allow the ROM to be politicized for the rebranding of an apartheid state.

For more information please contact the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid at: endapartheid [at] riseup.net


Dear Mr. William Thorsell:

I am writing to express my concern about the ROM’s decision to host the Dead Sea scrolls in cooperation with the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA). Since its foundation, the IAA has repeatedly contravened international agreements, protocols and conventions on the proper and ethical handling of cultural artifacts and has been complicit in the systematic dispossession of the Palestinian people.

As you are certainly aware, the transfer of the Dead Sea scrolls from the occupied West Bank into the custodianship of the IAA was effected under military duress and violates international legal norms regulating the handling of cultural goods that are the heritage of humanity. Such removals are part and parcel of a longstanding stripping and transfer of cultural goods from the occupied territories by the IAA, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and independent and illegally operating local antiquities dealers.

I am also concerned that the ROM’s Distinguished Lecture Series is hosting a number of scholars that have been complicit in the IAA’s aformentioned violations of international law. Such violations have been committed in the interest of forwarding a narrow nationalistic agenda and do nothing towards fostering an environment for a just and lasting peace in the region. This Lecture Series is being organized without the input of prominent Palestinian scholars in the region or of scholars critical of the ways in which the IAA has mishandled the joint cultural heritage of the region.

Finally, the Canadian Jewish News has noted that Israeli consul general in Toronto Amir Gissin’s “Brand Israel attack arsenal” includes the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. The aim of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Brand Israel
campaign, is to shift the attention away from Israel’s systematic violations of international humanitarian law by presenting a more ‘benign’ vision of Israel to a Canadian public increasingly wary of Israel’s war-crimes and apartheid policies towards the Palestinians.

I urge you to stand in solidarity with the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement internationally – launched by Palestinian civil society in the summer of 2005 – that seeks to peacefully put pressure on the Israeli government to end its abuses of international law. Taking a clear and principled position that emphasizes the ROM’s commitment to international law and to the fostering of consensual methods of international cooperation can only strengthen your institutions standing. Anything else would be an abdication of responsibility to the Palestinian communities most adversely affected by Israeli policies of dispossession, occupation and racial discrimination – policies exemplified in the recent history of the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves.




Fill out the form at: http://www.rom.on.ca/about/contact.php

Or mail your letters to:
Visitor Services Department
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 2C6

Visitor Services, Switchboard


Dead Sea Scrolls stir storm at ROM

A scrap of non-biblical Hebrew text from the first century CE, originally discovered in 1956.

Palestinian PM wants Harper to scrap show, claims violation of international law
April 09, 2009
Oakland Ross
JERUSALEM–A planned Toronto exhibit of ancient Middle Eastern manuscripts is threatening to plunge Canada, along with the Royal Ontario Museum, into the thick of the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Beginning in June, the ROM will host a six-month exhibit of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, organized in co-operation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

But top Palestinian officials this week declared the exhibit a violation of international law and called on Canada to cancel the show.

In letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and top executives at the ROM, senior Palestinian officials argue the scrolls – widely regarded as among the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – were acquired illegally by Israel when the Jewish state annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.

“The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories,” said Hamdan Taha, director-general of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

“I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada’s obligations.”

The Palestinians say the planned ROM exhibit violates at least four international conventions or protocols on the treatment of cultural goods that were illegally obtained.

Both Canada and Israel are signatories to all of the agreements, the Palestinians say.

The letter of protest sent this week to Harper was signed by Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and its second-in-command. The letter to the ROM bore the signature of Khouloud Daibes, minister of tourism and antiquities.

“I’m just hearing about this issue,” William Thorsell, CEO of the ROM, said yesterday. “I do understand the Palestinians are making an issue of the ownership. But I’m quite certain the scrolls fall within the parameters of the law.”

Officials at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs had no immediate response to the matter when contacted yesterday by the Star.

The scrolls were discovered in 11 caves on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, mostly between 1947 and 1956, and their ownership has long been a matter of fierce dispute between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

“We are the custodians of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Pnina Shor, head of the artifacts treatment and conservation department at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “As such, we have a right to exhibit them and to conserve them.”

Written mostly on parchment and partly on papyrus, the scrolls number about 900 manuscripts in all and mouldered undisturbed for roughly 20 centuries until their accidental discovery in 1947 by a young Bedouin Arab.

The timing of the find all but coincided with the establishment of Israel as an independent state and struck a deeply resonant chord among Jews, for the scrolls themselves, as well as their content and their origins, seemed to confirm an ancient Jewish bond with the Holy Land, reaching back to the destruction of the second Jewish temple in 70 AD – and beyond.

“The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls represents a turning point in the study of the history of the Jewish people in ancient times,” explains a passage of text on the website of the Israel Museum, which nowadays provides a permanent home for the scrolls, “for never before has such a literary treasure of such magnitude come to light.”

The caves containing the scrolls were located near Qumran, in what is now the Palestinian West Bank.

Beginning in 1947, and for nearly a decade, experts from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and the í‰cole biblique et archéologique franí§aise excavated the caves and salvaged the scrolls, only a few of which were found whole. The rest were scattered into thousands of fragments.

Written mainly in Hebrew, and partly in Aramaic and Greek, the scrolls include about 200 copies of portions of the Jewish Bible.

At first, the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control at the time.

After the 1967 Six Day War, however, Israel unilaterally absorbed the eastern sections of the city, an act most Western nations – including Canada – regard as illegal under international law. The Israelis removed the scrolls from East Jerusalem and took them to the western city, where they remain.

According to Shor at the Israel Antiquities Authority, portions of the scrolls frequently have been put on display in other countries – including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia – over the past 10 years or so.

The protest to Canada may be a test case for the Palestinians.

“This issue has never been raised, so far as I know, in the past,” said Thorsell.

The Palestinians say the scrolls are among “millions” of artifacts Israel has removed illegally from Palestinian territory since 1967.

The planned exhibition at the ROM is called the Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World. It is set to run from June 27 to Jan. 3.

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