Op/Ed: UNESCO is right, Israel is wrong
The word is that UNESCO is on an anti-Semitic tear, trying to “de-Judaize” and “Islamicize” two of the most holy Jewish sites in this country – the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.
“Talk about distortions,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told thousands of American Jews in New Orleans this week. “Can you imagine that UNESCO tried to deny the Jewish connection to Rachel’s Tomb next to Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron? The absurdity to try to erase our past…”
For all good, belligerent Jews, UNESCO is the outrage of the month. But they’re just blowing smoke again, trying to get off the defensive about the occupation by accusing the occupation’s critics of anti-Semitism. (Or, rather, “delegitimization,” which is the new, approved euphemism now that “anti-Semitism” has begun to sound like “wolf.”)
Read UNESCO’s declaration of October 21. It spells out in black and white that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are holy to Muslims, Christians ITAL and Jews. ITAL
The declaration is titled “The two Palestinian sites of al-Haram al-Ibrahim/Tomb of the Patriarchs in al-Khalil/Hebron and the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.”
It describes the sites as follows: “Located in the old town of Hebron in the southern part of the West Bank, the Haram al-Ibrahimi is venerated by Christians, Muslims and Jews as the burial place for the Biblical figures Abraham (Ibrahim) and Sarah, Isaac (Ishaq) and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah. Located in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Rachel’s Tomb is considered the traditional gravesite of the Biblical Matriarch Rachel and is home to the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque. … These cultural treasures are special to all of humanity in addition to the religious significance ascribed to them by people of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions.”
So UNESCO is ITAL recognizing ITAL the Jewish connection to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb. What it’s denouncing is Israel’s claim to sovereignty over these sites, which happen to lie in occupied Palestinian territory. UNESCO is denouncing Netanyahu’s loudly-stated intention to turn these holy places into “national heritage sites,” which would politicize and exploit them as a means to entrench Israel’s hold on the West Bank.
And UNESCO, guided in this dispute by the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states, is right. It’s Israel that’s wrong, which is nothing new; whenever Israel does anything to strengthen its rule over the Palestinians and the land where they live, Israel is wrong.
This latest controversy started in February after Netanyahu, reportedly under pressure from Shas, added the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb to a list of about 150 historic Jewish and Zionist sites to be developed for the public.
The Palestinians didn’t complain about the sites in “Israel proper,” only the two new ones in the West Bank. And they weren’t alone; Meretz also protested. “This is another attempt to blur the lines between the State of Israel and the occupied territories. Just a little pressure from the right and Netanyahu immediately toes the line,” said Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron at the time. (Anyone who thinks Meretz is anti-Semitic, too, is beyond reasoning with.)
Israel’s champions in this affair are focusing on the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque at Rachel’s Tomb, saying it didn’t exist until the 1990s, their point being that Rachel’s Tomb belongs to Jews and Jews alone.
My point is this: Who cares when the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque was built? If UNESCO is saying Rachel’s Tomb is holy to three religions, why do we have to insist that’s it’s only holy to one, to our religion?
And even if it is true that the Palestinians only put up a mosque at Rachel’s Tomb to compete with the Jewish claim on the site, we Jews have been doing the same thing to them all over this country. Muslims destroyed synagogues and Jewish cemeteries? Israel destroyed mosques and Muslim cemeteries.
“[T]he history of the struggle on the holy sites is not about the war of the Jewish sons of light against the Palestinian sons of darkness, but the story of a war in which both sides have committed barbaric acts to the other’s holy sites,” wrote Meron Benvenisti, a historian and former Jerusalem deputy mayor, in Ha’aretz in 2005.
After the War of Independence, Israel destroyed some 100 of the 140 mosques that had stood in the emptied-out Arab villages, he wrote. The 40 mosques left standing were put to use by Israeli Jews. “The mosque of an abandoned village in the Iron Valley serves [as] a kibbutz carpentry. A mosque in an artists’ community in the Carmel serves partly as a restaurant and bar. Other mosques serve as museums and galleries,” Benvenisti wrote. He added: “And we haven’t even mentioned yet the tombs of sheikhs that have become graves of holy Jewish figures…”
But we’re not supposed to think about that kind of stuff – we’re only supposed to go on hollering “delegitimization!” at UNESCO. And at the next anti-Semite of the month. Remember: When anybody accuses Israel of lording it over the Arabs, the best defense is a good offense.