(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bitterly attacked as “absurd” a UN statement
that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are an
integral part of the “occupied” Palestinian territories.
“The attempt to
disconnect the nation of Israel from its heritage is absurd,” he said in a
statement his office issued on Friday, in response to an October 21 decision
regarding both sites by the executive board of the United Nation’s Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.
US slams Israel's heritage sites list
'Rachel's Tomb was never Jewish'
“If the places where the
Jewish nation’s forefathers and mothers – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca,
Leah and Rachel – were buried 4,000 years ago is not part of the Jewish nation’s
heritage, then what is a heritage site?” Netanyahu asked.
He said he
“regretted that an organization which was created to promote the heritage of
historical sites around the world, was trying for political reasons to uproot
the connection between the nation of Israel and its heritage. This attempt won’t
succeed. The nation of Israel, unlike our neighbors, will continue to preserve
freedom of worship for all religions.”
This was not the first time that
Israel has argued with the international community over its right to these two
West Bank biblical sites. In February, Jerusalem’s decision to include both
sites in the country’s new national heritage list was condemned.
also consider both sites holy. They call the Tomb of the Patriarchs the Haram
al- Ibrahimi Mosque, and claim that Rachel’s Tomb was once the Bilal bin Rabah
Mosque, named after the third convert to Islam.
In its press statement
UNESCO referred to both sites, first by their Muslim names and then by their
It reaffirmed that the “two sites are an integral part of
the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the
Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law, the
UNESCO Conventions and the United Nations and Security Council
Meanwhile on Saturday, some 25,000 Jews flocked to Hebron
to mark the annual Torah reading of Hayei Sarah, a section of Genesis that
chronicles Abraham’s purchase of the cave.
Thousands of Jews
traditionally arrive to Hebron for that reading in a show of support for
continued Jewish presence in the city.
This year’s visitors included
Likud MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Tzipi Hotovely and National Union MK Uri Ariel. Safed
Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Bnei Akiva youth
movement, were also present.
The guests were also allowed access to the
city’s old quarter, the kasbah, for the first time in 12 years. The Council of
the Jewish Community in Hebron said it looked forward to a time when 25,000 Jews
would live there permanently.
Ahead of the weekend, 14 ministers, five
deputy ministers, 19 MKs from the opposition and coalition, and Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin (Likud) all issued letters of support for the Jewish community of
Hebron. Among those who sent letters were Vice Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud),
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar
(Likud), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) and Kadima MKs
Tzahi Hanegbi, Ronit Tirosh and Yoel Hasson.
On October 21, the UNESCO
board dealt with other issues relating to Israel, including Jerusalem’s Old
City, which it said was sacred to all three monotheistic religions. But at the
same time it was concerned with ongoing repair and archeological work that
Israel has done there.
It called on Israel not to take any measures that
would affect the “authenticity and integrity” of the ascent to the Mughrabi Gate
to the Temple Mount. It also said it was concerned by what it said was Israel’s
ongoing excavations and archeological work on the Temple Mount, which was in
contradiction to UNESCO decisions and UN Security Council
UNESCO called on the UN director-general to station experts
in east Jerusalem to examine and report on the architectural, educational,
cultural and demographic situation there.
It took Israel to task for
continuing to construct its security barrier in the West Bank and said that the
structure kept “children and students from being an integral part of their
social fabric and from exercising their full right to education.”
it deplored continued Israeli restrictions on movement of goods and people in
and out of the Gaza Strip, and asked that the UN continue its humanitarian