PM urged to add Cave of the Patriarchs to heritage list

As part of a new Heritage Plan, Netanyahu intends to present cabinet with list of 100 sites marked for preservation.

By BY TOVAH LAZAROFF
February 19, 2010 02:42
3 minute read.

 
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One of the most ancient biblical sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron – might not make it onto Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s heritage list designed to return Israelis to their roots.

As part of a new Heritage Plan, Netanyahu on Sunday intends to present the cabinet with a list of 100 sites marked for renovation and preservation.

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News of the cave’s possible exclusion from the list, along with that of Rachel’s Tomb, has already spread to settlers and parliamentarians, who on Thursday urgently appealed to Netanyahu to place it on his list of 100 sites of religious, historic and cultural significance.

Both the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are located in the West Bank, in areas that Palestinians believe should be included within their future state.

The Heritage Plan, which includes sites on both sides of the pre-1967 armistice line, will cost NIS 399 million over six years. It has been in the works for months, but the plan was announced publicly for the first time on February 3, at the 10th annual Herzliya Conference.

At the time Netanyahu said, “Today, I would like to speak not of disengagement, but rather of engagement: engagement with our heritage, with Zionism, with our past and with our future here in the land of our forefathers.”

On Thursday, Hebron community spokeswoman Orit Struck told The Jerusalem Post that if the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was not eligible to be on the list, then this heritage plan “is not engagement, but disengagement from our heritage.”

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The Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said the Heritage Plan sites were chosen not because of their importance but rather because of their urgent need to be renovated and rescued.

It refused to divulge details of the list of 100 recommendations that would be made to the cabinet.

It said that the “list was not binding” and that additions could be made by a committee that was to be established.

“The inclusion of the Cave of the Patriarchs, just like any other site in the program, will be weighed and considered as needed,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.

MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) told the Post that he personally called cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser to ask that the cave be included on the list.

Hauser was willing to confirm that a number of other West Bank sites, such as Herodion and Sussiya, were on the list but would not give details about the cave.

Akunis, along with fellow Likud MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Tzion Pinyan and MK Shlomo Molla of Kadima, visited Hebron on Thursday.

Members of the Jewish community there took videos of them speaking in support of the cave’s inclusion on the list, and posted the the clips on YouTube.

“You cannot help but be emotional to stand where Abraham did. When you speak of the cornerstone of the Jewish nation, you speak of Jerusalem, which is the eternal capital. But you also speak of Hebron, which was the first capital,” said Akunis.

He said he hoped the cabinet would make the right decision on Sunday.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said he was certain that neither the cave nor Rachel’s Tomb was on the prime minister’s list.

He sent a letter to Netanyahu asking him to correct this omission. A heritage list without these two places “completely obliterates its objective,” said Dayan. “It blurs Israel’s relationship to the land instead of clarifying it.”

Located in Hebron, more than 15 km. over the Green Line, the cave is housed in the only fully surviving Herodion structure. According to the Hebron Jewish community, half a million people visit the cave annually.

Even Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, whose group believes that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, said she was loath to argue that the cave should be excluded from the Heritage Plan.

She told the Post she believed it was important for people to learn about the site and that she hoped Jews would be able to visit it when the area was part of a Palestinian state.

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