Biblical Archaeology Review 27:3, May/June 2001

The New Struggle for the Scrolls: Will They Go to the Palestinians?

By Hershel Shanks

Will the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ruins of Qumran, adjacent to the caves where the scrolls were found, be given to the Palestinians? As the Israelis and Palestinians struggle slowly and painfully toward some kind of accommodation that eventually will almost certainly involve the creation of a Palestinian state, the future of the scrolls and the settlement associated with them is emerging as another thorny issue.

Several things are clear. Qumran is in the West Bank. So are the 11 caves where the scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956. And before 1967, Qumran was in an area controlled by Jordan.

Just as clear is the fact that the scrolls are Jewish religious documents and include more than two hundred Biblical manuscripts—parts of every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther and the Song of Songs.

The Palestinians have already stated that they want both the scrolls and the site, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel and the West Bank. Whether Qumran will ultimately be part of the state of Israel or the state of Palestine will be a matter of negotiation between the parties. So will the question of who gets the scrolls, but this question will be negotiated against a background of international law. The Palestinians will be relying on the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and on the Protocol attached to that Convention.

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