Palestinians claim Dead Sea Scrolls as their own

The Dead Sea Scrolls on display in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The Palestinian Authority has determined that the famous Dead Sea Scrolls belong to the Palestinian people, according to Israeli media reports.

The PA laid claim to the ancient scrolls, saying they were found in Qumran, an area of the West Bank that Palestinians want for a future Palestinian state. Reportedly, the PA stated that Israel illegally appropriated the scrolls since Qumran lies beyond the “Green Line,” a demarcation line drawn in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan after Israel’s War of Independence, the Arab-Israeli War, of 1948.

The scrolls are now housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Found inside caves in Qumran between 1947 to 1956, the scrolls include the third oldest known manuscripts of texts found in the Hebrew Bible. Most of the Qumran scrolls are written in Hebrew.

The PA reportedly plans to formally ask the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, to decide that Israel be required to “return” the scrolls to the Palestinian people. The committee is an advisory body to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Center.

The Palestinians informally raised the matter with the committee in September this year. It is reported that both the Israel Antiquities Authority and Shama-Hacohen, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, announced the PA plans to make a formal claim to the scrolls when the committee meets again in 2017.

Some 40 percent of the scrolls contain biblical texts including Isaiah, Deuteronomy and Psalms. Another 30 percent is made of non-canonical texts from the Second Temple period, such as the Book of Enoch and prophecies by Ezekiel, Daniel and Jeremiah that are not included in the Bible. A further 30 percent comprises texts that document the beliefs and rules of ancient Jewish groups. The scrolls are considered powerful proof of a Jewish presence in the area since ancient times.

Even so, the Palestinians state the scrolls belong to them, pointing to the fact that Qumran is now part of Section C in the West Bank – an area the Palestinians claim for their state. “Section C” is an area  of the West Bank that is controlled by Israel and has some 150,000 Palestinians and more than 389,000 Israelis living there. The division of the West Bank into the administrative sections A, B and C was the result of the 1995 Oslo II Accords. Area A is exclusively governed by the PA, area B is run by both the PA and Israel and area C is run only by Israel. Sections A and B were marked out to in such a way as to have only Palestinians living within them.

The Palestinian claim has angered Israelis as this announcement comes on the heels of UNESCO resolutions that ignore Jewish claims to the Temple Mount. The claim would also appear to be a step backward after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s surprise attendance at the funeral of Shimon Peres last month, when no other Arab state leaders attended.