(photo credit: REUTERS)
For those who wondered what the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization would do for an encore at its theater of the absurd after it disavowed Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in May, the answer is set to emerge in less than two weeks. It is then that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is set to debate including the Old City of Hebron – including the Tomb of the Patriarchs – in the “State of Palestine” when it meets from July 2 to 12 in Poland.
“This is a new front in the war over the holy places that the Palestinians are trying to ignite as part of their propaganda campaign against Israel and the history of the Jewish people,” Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“This is a clear continuation of the attacks and hallucinatory outrageous votes in UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” Shama Hacohen said. This is only natural, he didn’t need to add, since after Jerusalem, Hebron is considered the second holiest Jewish city in the Land of Israel.
UNESCO recognized “Palestine” as a state in 2011, which entitled the Palestinian Authority to list two sites on the World Heritage List: Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2012 and the ancient terraces of Battir in 2014.
Several thousand years before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad and the advent of Islam, the Bible records Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpela in Hebron for use as a family tomb. Following the Muslim conquest of the region in the seventh century, its rulers did what was to be common practice later in Europe, whose churches were converted into mosques under the sword of Islam.
Despite both Jerusalem and Hebron being liberated by the IDF during the Six Day War, Israel’s management of both holy sites has differed in a curious and significant way.
Today’s restrictions on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount begs the question why then-defense minister Moshe Dayan forbade Jewish prayer there, but not at the Machpela Cave.
Why is Hebron the only place where Muslims and Jews pray separately in the tomb of a common patriarch? According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dayan actually believed that by giving religious sovereignty over the Mount to the Muslim Wakf he was defusing the site as a center of Palestinian nationalism. We know how well that worked out.
A lot has improved for Jews in Hebron since the community was massacred in 1929 at the incitement of grand mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. There is today a tiny Jewish community in a city of more than 100,000 people who define themselves as Palestinians living under military occupation. Whereas Jews used to be restricted to an outside staircase at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the site now operates as a jointly held shrine. Israel works with both religious authorities in Hebron to maintain the site and to ensure access for Muslim worshipers to its Ibrahimi Mosque, named for the patriarch.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has written a letter to UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova noting that “Palestinian officials, including the leader of the Wakf of Hebron and the Wakf of the Cave, have praised the cooperation of Israeli authorities responsible for the security of these holy sites in Hebron and public safety arrangements for worshipers at the Cave.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told a pre-Passover rally in Hebron that Jews should be able to buy property in Hebron as a Zionist principle. Such an act is not an issue of real estate, she said, but rather “an ideological act driven by love for the Jewish people and their land. Jews have lived in this city since the time of the Bible.” She added that they would continue to live there forever.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to claim the most recent UNESCO Jerusalem vote as a victory, on the grounds that it passed with only 38% of the countries supporting the resolution referring to “occupied Palestine.”
“The number of countries that support this absurd UNESCO resolution is getting smaller,” Netanyahu optimistically told the diplomatic corps at an Independence Day reception.
The world will find out how much smaller when Act 2 takes place in Poland next month. It will open with a non-debate on a text that, no matter how absurd, cannot refute the history of the Jewish people.