ZOA Condemns UNESCO Vote Falsely Calling Hebron’s Tomb Of Patriarchs & Rachel’s Tomb “Palestinian”
November 5, 2010


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The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned the United Nations Economic, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for recently adopting an Arab-initiated resolution that declared Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, among the most significant of Jewish holy sites, to be “Palestinian,” including a specific, false reference to Rachel’s Tomb as a “mosque.” By a vote of 44 to 1, with 12 abstentions, UNESCO, referring to these sites first by the Arabic names Haram al-Ibrahm and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and only afterwards by their time-honored, internationally known Jewish names, declared them to be “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories” and asserted “that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.” UNESCO also demanded that Israel remove the site from its own list of National Heritage Sites, even though the site has had Jewish significance for over 4000 years. It also removed from the protocol of the decision the objections from the Israeli representative at the vote, leading Israel to suspend ties with UNESCO. The ZOA has urged people to cease donations to UNESCO.


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the UNESCO vote as an “absurd” attempt to “detach the people of Israel from its heritage … If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel, some 4,000 years ago, are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?” (Editorial, ‘UNESCO and the cradle of Jewish history,’ Jerusalem Post, November 2, 2010).


Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarch is the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob while Rachel’s Tomb is an exclusively Jewish site to which Palestinians have only recently produced a fabricated claim. Rachel’s Tomb was never claimed as a mosque by any Muslim group until 2000, when Palestinians started to refer to it as the “Bilal Ben Rabah Mosque” (Nadav Shragai, ‘Palestinian Authority and the Jewish Holy Sites  in the West Bank: Rachel’s Tomb as a Test Case,’ Jerusalem Viewpoints, December 2007).


On Yom Kippur 2000, as the second intifada was being launched, the Palestinian Authority (PA) daily, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, “published an article that blatantly departed from Muslim tradition, which corresponds with Jewish tradition, to claim that ‘the tomb is false and was originally a Muslim mosque.’ Until then, all official Palestinian Authority references to the site had recognized it as Rachel’s Tomb. (A similar tactic was used after the 1929 Arab riots, to transform the Western Wall into the al-Buraq wall, which supposedly the place where Muhammed’s winged horse al-Buraq was tied after his night-flight from Mecca)” (Editorial, ‘UNESCO and the cradle of Jewish history,’ Jerusalem Post, November 2, 2010). Even Muslim sources over the centuries have referred to the site as Rachel’s Tomb, for example, Muhammad al-Idrisi, the great Muslim geographer and cartographer of the 12th century, who wrote: “On the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the tomb of Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin” (Michael Freund, ‘Hands off Mother Rachel,’ Jerusalem Post, November 3, 2010).

Jews and Muslims have been able to worship in Hebron under Jewish rule, something that was not permitted of Jews when it was previously under Jordanian, Muslim control.


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The ZOA condemns UNESCO in the strongest possible terms for its ridiculous and anti-Semitic attempted erasure of the historic and religious Jewish identity of these holy Jewish sites, which have been recognized as such since time immemorial. In particular, we condemn UNESCO’s effrontery in demanding that Israel remove the sites from its own heritage listing, as though Israel is a banana republic that could possibly be swayed by the words of a corrupt and dishonest Israel-bashing UN bureaucracy.


“It is particularly dishonest and offensive of UNESCO to issue any such proclamation, as Jewish holy sites have been destroyed, vandalized or left in disrepair by the Palestinians whenever PA control has been extended, even temporarily, to localities containing them. The Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva at Joseph’s Tomb was destroyed in 1996 by Palestinian rioters, while Joseph’s tomb itself was destroyed in 2000 by Palestinian mobs as soon as Israeli forces were temporarily withdrawn. Another ancient Jewish site, the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, rediscovered only after the 1967 war, was also completely and deliberately destroyed by Palestinians in October 2000. There is long record of PA denials of the existence of Jewish sites and Jewish rights to them. Of the two sites mentioned in the UNESCO resolution, Rachel’s Tomb in particular has been the object of much Palestinian shooting, bombing rioting, rock throwing and vandalism for years.


“The Palestinian denial of Jewish history and rights only too clearly underscores why peace is unfortunately not possible with Abbas and his Fatah-backed PA. UNESCO’s similar denial only underscores its complete servility to the Arab/Muslim war on Israel and invalidates it as an organization worthy of Western funding or participation.


“This is simply the latest, albeit one of the most egregious chapters in the history of Israel-bashing by UNESCO.”


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