Federation defends holy sites in Israel
Cave of the Patriarchs
December 15, 2010
United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ said the United Nations is helping to “undermine Israel’s Jewish future” with a ruling that Israel has no right to add traditional Jewish sites to the country’s National Heritage list.
Israel suspended ties with the cultural body of the United Nations over its decision last month to classify the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian sites.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is in charge of preserving historical sites, adopted several proposals by Arab states classifying Jewish and Muslim holy sites. It designated the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories” and referred to it and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as “Palestinian sites.”
A UJC MetroWest statement said with these moves, “UNESCO is aiding and abetting those who hope to obfuscate Israel’s Jewish past and undermine Israel’s Jewish future.”
“Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized, not swept away to conform with a pro-Palestinian political narrative,” according to the statement, issued by UJC MetroWest’s Community Relations Committee. “In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious, and historical bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member UN nation, and undermines its own principles.”
In Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a rejection of UNESCO’s decisions and declared that Israel “has no intention of cooperating with the organization.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision in a statement, saying that “the attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd. 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?”
“It is regrettable,” the Israeli leader added, “that the organization established to promote historical heritage sites worldwide is trying for political reasons to detach the ties between the Jewish people and their heritage.”
In February, Netanyahu included both sites on the country’s new national heritage list and allocated money to refurbish them. The decision was condemned throughout the international community; UNESCO asked Israel to remove the sites from the list.
With reporting by JTA
“Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized”
United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and its Community Relations Committee issued the following Resolution on UNESCO and Israel’s Holy Sites:
We, UJC of MetroWest New Jersey, stand together to protest the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) ruling that Israel has no right to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where almost all of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, to the National Heritage list.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the oldest Jewish shrine and the second-holiest site in Judaism, centers around the Cave of Machpelah, an ancient double cave revered for almost 4,000 years as the burial site of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives. The connection of the Jewish people, and of Christianity, to the Cave of Machpelah was established some 3,800 years ago, when Abraham, the first Hebrew, purchased it for the express purpose of using it as a burial site for himself, his wife Sarah, and their future generations. It is the cradle of Jewish history and the focal point of Jewish identity. The rectangular enclosure over the caves is the only fully surviving Herodian structure. Thus the Tomb of the Patriarchs is of inestimable historical value as well as great sacred significance for the Jewish people.
We also protest the decision by UNESCO to re-label as an Islamic mosque the Tomb of Rachel, Israel’s other matriarch, and to demand that Israel remove the site from its National Heritage list. The Tomb of Rachel, Judaism's third-holiest site, has been the scene of prayer and pilgrimage for more than 3,000 years, and has an especially meaningful connection for Jewish women.
Until 2000, the Palestinians recognized the site as Rachel’s Tomb. It was called “Rachel’s Tomb” in Al-mawsu'ah al-filastiniyah, the Palestinian encyclopedia published after 1996 and in Palestine, the Holy Land, a Palestinian publication, with an introduction by Yasser Arafat. However, during the second Intifada, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, a Palestinian daily, announced a newfound historical connection to Rachel’s Tomb, declaring that is was “originally a Muslim mosque.”
In cooperating with efforts to erase Jewish historical ties to Israel, UNESCO is aiding and abetting those who hope to obfuscate Israel’s Jewish past and undermine Israel’s Jewish future. The UNESCO mission states: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our culture and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” We, UJC of MetroWest, protest UNESCO’s decision to ignore this mission statement when it comes to the Jewish heritage of these ancient biblical burial sites.
Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized, not swept away to conform with a pro-Palestinian political narrative. In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious, and historical bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member UN nation, and undermines its own principles. It aims to rob the Jewish people not only of two sacred sites, which are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, but also of their past and a legacy to pass on to future generations.
We demand that UNESCO, whose purpose it is to protect heritage, also protect Jewish and Christian heritage in the Holy Land, rather than deny it.