The truth, they say, never dies, but it sure can be made to live a miserable
existence. For proof, one need look no further than the recent decisions adopted
by the executive board of UNESCO in Paris.
In an astonishing display of
anti-Israel bias, the group issued a statement which was anything but
educational, scientific or cultural. In just a few paragraphs, it managed to
parrot the most brazen and absurd of the Palestinians’ propaganda claims,
blasting the Jewish state for everything from excavating the Aksa Mosque to
preventing Arab children from going to school.
These are the kinds of
fairy tales that one expects to read in the Ramallah media, not in official
documents circulated by an international body.
But perhaps the most
contemptible decision of all had to do with two of Judaism’s most cherished and
holiest sites. Slapping history and logic squarely in the face, UNESCO declared
the burial places of the Jewish people’s forefathers, the Cave of the Patriarchs
in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem, to be “Palestinian
Yes, you read that correctly. It had the nerve to say that the
graves of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the matriarchs
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, are not Jewish sites, but Palestinian
And the learned diplomats didn’t stop there.
According to a
UNESCO press release, its board also voted “to reaffirm that the two sites are
an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” This is so patently
offensive and insulting to Jewish belief that it borders on outright
Denying the Jewishness of our ancestors is nothing less
than a direct assault on the foundations of the Jewish people, and UNESCO should
be roundly condemned.
Moreover, the organization has done itself a great
disservice, demonstrating its sheer ignorance of the historical
NOW, SINCE UNESCO claims that one of its goals is “to improve
education worldwide,” I’d like to give it a short history lesson about one of
the sites it declared to be Palestinian: Rachel’s Tomb.
In the book of
Genesis (35:19-20), the Bible says: “And Rachel died, and was buried on the way
to Ephrata, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: That is
the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”
Jewish sources such as the
Talmud mention Rachel’s Tomb. The midrash Bereshit Rabba (82:10), which scholars
say was written in the fifth century, famously notes that Jacob buried Rachel on
the road to Ephrata because he foresaw that Israel’s exiles would later pass the
site, and he wanted her to pray for them.
This alone should be proof
enough of the ancient Jewish connection to Rachel’s Tomb.
But it is also
worth noting that centuries before Islam was founded, Jewish and Christian
pilgrims visited Rachel’s burial place and made note of it in their
In 333 CE, a Christian known only as the Bordeaux Pilgrim
recorded having seen Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem. In his
Itinerary of the Bordeaux Pilgrim, he wrote: “On the right of the road to
Bethlehem is the tomb in which was laid Jacob’s wife Rachel.” Jerome, the early
Church father and saint who moved to Bethlehem from Rome in 386, also mentions
the tomb, as did the fourth century historian and bishop Eusebius. In his
Onomasticon, an alphabetical listing of biblical place names along with their
descriptions, Eusebius wrote under the entry for “Ephrata”: “On the way Rachel
was buried, five miles from Jerusalem... The tomb is shown still
Interestingly, none of the ancient sources refer to the site as
the “Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque,” as UNESCO and the Palestinians now
Take, for example, Epiphanius the Monk, whose volume on The Holy City
and the Holy Places, which was written in 692, says, “To the south of the Holy
City, along the road, is the tomb of Rachel.”
Even Islamic travelers in
the Middle Ages used this terminology. Muhammad al-Idrisi, the great Muslim
geographer and cartographer of the 12th century, wrote: “On the road between
Bethlehem and Jerusalem is the tomb of Rachel, the mother of Joseph and
Benjamin.” Needless to say, neither he nor anyone before him ever described it
as a “Palestinian site.”
For millennia, Rachel’s Tomb has served as a
place of pilgrimage and prayer for the Jewish people, who revere the person
We have wept along with our mother Rachel at the dispersion
of our people, and we rejoice together with her at our return to this land. She
is one of our founding figures, and no one has the right – not even the UN – to
dare suggest otherwise.
So to UNESCO, all I have to say is: Keep your
hands off Mother Rachel and our other illustrious forebears.
to the Jewish people, whether you like it or not.