Scrolls of Contention

Shortly after the passage of Resolution 2334 by the United Nations Security Council in December 2016, I began to explore its ramifications.  The Resolution was approved when the Obama Administration refused to exercise its veto in a fit of pique at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It says basically that any land not within the pre-1967 “Green Line” belongs to the Palestinians and that any Israeli activity outside the Green Line is illegal and an obstacle to peace.

I’ve written before my overall theory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the collapse of the Camp David process in 2000.  This is that the strategy of the Palestinian Authority since then has been to refuse to make peace, use international pressure to force Israel back to the pre-1967 lines without giving up anything in return, then try to conquer the rest.  Palestinian actions continue to evidence this theory,  Looked at from this perspective, certain tactics come into focus.  One is to strip Israel and the Jewish people of their cultural heritage and connection to the land.  Should the Palestinian Authority accomplish this in the court of public opinion, it will be easier to then generate international support for its ultimate goal – the destruction of the State of Israel.

Within that framework, one historical artifact looms large – the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Unlike real estate such as the Temple Mount or the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Scrolls are movable.  They therefore become subject to international pressure in a way that differs from historical sights.  UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, can declare the Tomb of the Patriarchs to be a Palestinian Heritage Sight, but it has very limited enforcement capability to the thousands of tourists who visit every year.

The Scrolls are different.  They are being translated, studied and exhibited all over the world.  As such, UNESCO has its pressure point – the people, countries and organizations involved in the process.

After the Palestinian’s most recent attempt to claim control over the Scrolls and following Resolution 2334, I contacted some of the academics and institutions currently working on the new translations and warned them of what might be coming. Not surprisingly, I never heard anything back.  Now, I reiterate the concern.

Last week, Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center publicly stated that the next “prize” to which the Palestinians will lay claim is the Scrolls.  The PA likely will do so as early as the next meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which takes place in Bahrain in July.  Since becoming a member of UNESCO in 2011 the Palestinian Authority has obtained the labeling of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the agricultural terraces in Battir (Betar) and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as “Palestinian”.  All of those are places.  The Scrolls are not.

To anyone with a brain, it is ludicrous to imagine any people other than Jews and the State of Israel claiming the Scrolls.  They were written by Jews in a Jewish homeland describing segments of Jewish life at the time of Jesus.  Unfortunately, UNESCO perfectly fills the role of the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  Appallingly anti-Semitic, UNESCO has adopted more anti-Israeli resolutions than resolutions condemning all other countries in the world combined.  Now, it is setting its sights on the Scrolls.

Already the Palestinian campaign is having success.  In December 2017 the Israel Antiquities Authority refused to allow parts of the Scrolls to travel to Germany after the German government refused to confirm that they were Israeli property, potentially subjecting them to seizure by German authorities.  Should UNESCO declare the Scrolls to be Palestinian, it would give the international imprimatur to this absurdity.  As such, any country wishing to exhibit the Scrolls not only would need to ignore the UN Agency but actively oppose it in agreeing with Israel that the Scrolls will not be subject to legal challenge.  In addition, any academic working on the Scrolls, and any institution involved, could face the pressure of UN sponsored intellectual and academic isolation should he/she/it continue to do so without Palestinian approval.

It is within this context that the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem over international and Palestinian objections is so crucial.  By that action, the American Administration showed that it will not countenance the internationally-sanctioned stripping of Jewish connection to the land and its artifacts to placate the Palestinians.   It also is within this context that one can understand why normally brilliant people like Richard Haas of the United States Council of Foreign Relations and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times are so consistently wrong in their prognostications about future events in the conflict.  In my humble opinion, they fundamentally misunderstand its current parameters.

Peace has not been made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because, as of yet, the proper formula has not been found, peace has not been made because there remains no real constituency within the PA to make it.  Why should there be?  They are playing the long game, and they see their tactics succeeding.  Little by little Israeli and Jewish claims to Jewish history, artifacts and land are being dismissed by the international community.  As this continues, it becomes easier for the Palestinians to paint Israel and Jews as little more than Western imperialist occupiers of historical Palestinian land, despite the fact that this turns history on its head.

If peace is to be made, it only will come after the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people recognize that their intransigence is hurting them both short and long term.  Recognizing Jewish claims to Jerusalem (but not necessarily all of Jerusalem) was a hugely important and necessary move.  Doing so without seeking a tradeoff from Israel was essential to embody its true significance.  It shows the world that Jewish claims to its historical heritage are not for sale or barter.  So few pundits understand this.

Now come the Scrolls.  The international community likely will vote that because the Scrolls originally were found in Qumran, which following the 1947 partition plan was placed on the Arab side, they are part of Palestinian cultural heritage.  Just the fact that the Palestinians are requesting this shows their mindset.

In labeling these pieces of Jewish history as “Palestinian”, the world moves one step farther from enhancing the concept of peace, and one step closer to lunacy.  That a country such as Germany would consent  shows how far gone we already are, and how much work needs to be done.

To all people and institutions involved in working with the Scrolls, get ready.  The battle is about to begin.

About the Author
Daniel B, Markind is an attorney based in Philadelphia specializing in real estate, commercial, energy and aviation law. He is the former Chair of the National Legal Committee of the Jewish National Fund of America as well as being a former member of the National Executive Board and the National Chair of the JNF National Future Leadership. He writes frequently on Middle Eastern and energy issues. Mr. Markind lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and children.
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