Jan 07 2010

Growing up in Bethlehem with the Dead Sea Scrolls story

Published by at 9:42 am under Articles,Personal

By Daoud Kuttab

The latest news about Jordan’s demands that Canada seize the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were on display in Toronto, brings back many childhood memories for me.

For perspective this is what has happened. Jordan has requested Canada to take custody of the scrolls, citing the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both Jordan and Canada are signatories.

On display at the exhibition were artefacts taken from the Palestine Museum (also called the Rockefeller Museum) in East Jerusalem.

Last April, the Palestinian Authority tried to convince Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to refuse the exhibition. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made the request during Harper’s visit to Ramallah.

Israel has rejected Jordan’s claims using some unusual language.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, made the preposterous claim that Jordan’s rule over fellow Arabs before 1967 was an “occupation” and stated that the “Kingdom relinquished all claims on the territories in the 1980s”,

Ironically the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty clearly states the Kingdom’s role in as far as Jerusalem is concerned.

What really irked me was the lame excuse that the capture of antiques from a museum in an occupied area is legitimate, because “the scrolls have no connection to Jordan or the Jordanian people”.

Palmor argues for Israel’s right to these stolen artefacts on the basis that the “Dead Sea Scrolls are an intrinsic part of Jewish heritage and religion”.

I literally grew up with the details of the discovery and story of these scrolls that Israel is trying to claim Jordan and Palestine have no connection to. The house where I spent much of my childhood in Bethlehem in the 1960s was owned by the Kando family whose home was next door to ours. My dad would often tell us the story of the Dead Sea scrolls, beginning with how a shepherd named Mohammad Al Deeb’s herd of goats had run into one of the Jordan Valley caves in an area called Qumran. Deeb is said to have thrown a stone after the goat only to hear the sound of a ceramic pot breaking. When he entered he saw the leather scrolls and decided to take them to Bethlehem. Visiting a Christian Palestinian cobbler, Khalil Kando, Deeb asked to make him a sandal out of the leather parchments. But Kando saw the writing and knew that it was important so he offered the shepherd two leather sandals if he would tell him where he found the scrolls. Kando, who was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church, sought the advice of his local bishop, who quickly realised the uniqueness and importance of the find, and is said to have sold it to the British Museum for half a million pounds.

In 1952, Kando, who had given up working as a cobbler and turned into an antique dealer, discovered numerous fragments and sold them to the Palestine Archaeological Museum and the École Biblique. It is these that were the focus of the Jordanian and Palestinian officials.

Fragments of every book of the Old Testament were found in several caves, not all of which are limited to the Jewish faith but are an integral part of Christianity. Islam also considers the Old Testament sacred.

Growing up in a home owned by the cobbler turned antique dealer Kando brought back memories of many of the details of this extraordinary discovery. Living near the Church of the Nativity for part of my childhood meant that we were close to the location and the circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, which was prophesied by Prophet Isaiah in words that were etched in 10 BC.

Since I was a child, and until now, churches in Bethlehem and elsewhere often repeat the words written in Isaiah 7:14:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

No doubt these and other verses will be repeated these days as Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas today in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

The holy land is sacred to the three monotheistic religions. Claims of religious exclusivity and the use of this arrogance to justify the theft of land and the occupation of people have brought disastrous results. The sooner that we honour and recognise each other and our faith, the sooner we will be able to understand the soothing words of angels calling for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind.

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