7 June 2009
Later this month, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) will be showcasing artifacts illegally seized by Israel in 1967 after it occupied East Jerusalem. In cooperating with the Israel Antiquities Authority to import and exhibit the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ROM would be in violation of Canada’s obligations under UNESCO legal conventions and protocols, and its own obligations as a member of the Canadian Museums Association (CMA).
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The Dead Sea Scrolls were largely excavated from Qumran (see map below) in the West Bank between 1947 and 1956 by the Palestine Archaeological Museum with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and the École Biblique Française. The Scrolls were in East Jerusalem until 1967.
Map of Qumran
As a signatory to the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), as well as the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), Canada cannot import cultural property from an occupied territory, and must, if it can, take the cultural property into custody and return it to the competent authorities of the territory previously occupied at the end of hostilities. The Palestinian Authority objects to the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls because they were illegally obtained.
The CMA sets out in its Ethical Guidelines that museums “must avoid even the remotest suspicion of compliance in any illegal activity,” and that “museums must guard against any direct or indirect participation in the illicit traffic in cultural and natural objects; this may include natural or cultural objects that are: stolen; illegally imported or exported from another state, including those that are occupied or war-stricken; illegally or unscientifically excavated or collected in the field.”
Considering its legal obligations, the ROM should not under any circumstance import the Dead Sea Scrolls until they have been returned to the competent authorities in the West Bank.
The CJPME Leadership