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Protest ROM decision to display stolen antiquities

Oakland Ross | The Star

11 April 2009

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: [email protected]

SUGGESTED LETTER:

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 aforementioned 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.

Sincerely,

________________

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Royal Ontario Museum
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Toronto, Ontario
M5S 2C6
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