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Israel cancels Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Frankfurt to avoid possible seizure

(Wikimedia Commons/The Israel Museum's 'Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project')Beginning of the Habakkuk Commentary or Pesher Habakkuk, labelled 1QpHab, one of the first Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947.

Israel has canceled an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Frankfurt after the German government stated that it cannot guarantee the return of the manuscripts if claimed by Jordanians or Palestinians.

The Frankfurt Bible Museum has announced that the exhibit that has been scheduled for a September 2019 opening has been canceled because the German government was unable to provide a guarantee that the scrolls would be returned to Israel.

The first scrolls had been discovered by Bedouins in 1946 in the West Bank, which has been under the control of Israel since its Six-Day War victory in 1967. In 2010, Jordan's antiquities department demanded the return of some of the scrolls, claiming that they were taken from a Jerusalem museum during the war.

The Palestinian Authority has also claimed ownership of the scrolls, which are the earliest known copies of the Hebrew Bible and are seen as evidence of Jewish ties to the land.

On Thursday, Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor of Frankfurt, sent letters to Culture and Media Minister Monika Grütters and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urging them to issue the government guarantee that would have blocked Palestinian or Jordanian authorities from contesting the provenance of the scrolls.

"If Germany is unwilling to clearly express the legal status of the fragments of Qumran as Israeli world-cultural-heritage goods, it would dramatically change the coordinates in our German-Israeli relations," Becker said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"And it would mean the construction of a wall toward the places of the birth of Christianity in the holy country, because it would be the same for Bethlehem, Jericho, east Jerusalem and many other places of Jesus's work," the deputy mayor continued.

Jürgen Schefzyk, the director of the Frankfurt Bible Museum, said that he regretted the German government's decision, noting that Holland and Austria would not have hesitated to issue general immunity guarantees.

The museum, which is largely funded by a Protestant umbrella organization, had worked closely with Israeli Antiquities Authority for years, but Israel required a guarantee from Germany that the scrolls would be returned before lending the manuscripts.

"The precondition for such an exhibition is an 'Immunity from Seizure' document issued by the German authorities. For reasons that are not in our hand we are at present unable to provide such a document despite all efforts, including contacts to all governmental institutions in Germany," Schefzyk said.

Boris Rhein, the culture minister from the state of Hesse, said that the German Foreign Ministry and the federal commissioner for cultural affairs considered the ownership of the manuscripts to be unclear, adding that he would have issued the guarantees himself if he could.

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