This is vile even by UN standards.
The board of UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has decided that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs — both of which are ancient Jewish holy places — should be removed from Israel’s list of national sites. And that’s not all. According to UNESCO, Rachel’s Tomb isn’t Jewish after all, despite millenia of history. Its name should accordingly be changed to the Bilal ibn Rabah mosque — a demand the Palestinians manufactured, in the teeth of all historical evidence, in 1996.
You might be interested to read the horrified protests of Nimrod Barkan, the Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO. You can’t, though. They’ve been expunged from the record.
The original instigator of this grotesque insult is Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was quoted in the Saudi press in March as saying that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.” Obviously they were taking notes on First Avenue.
Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu issued a rather understated reply to UNESCO: “It is unfortunate that an organization that was established with the goal of promoting the cultural preservation of historical sites around the world is attempting due to political reasons to uproot the connection between the nation of Israel and its cultural heritage.” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon announced that Israel will cease cooperation with UNESCO, adding that “We should see the organization’s decision to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb from the list of Israel’s national sites as part of Palestinian escalation in international organizations.”
This act by UNESCO is more than a slap in Israel’s face. It’s a declaration of war. Even I, secular Jew that I am, understand that Rachel’s Tomb — Rachel’s Tomb, for God’s sake! — is a beloved ancient Jewish site, inseparable from our history. The Jerusalem Post explains:
Rachel’s Tomb is located on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem some 460 meters south of Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. The site has been identified for over 1,700 years as the grave of the Jewish matriarch Rachel. The copious literature of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims identifies and documents the spot as the place where Rachel is buried.
Many generations of Jews have visited the place for prayer, requests and entreaties. The site has become a sort of Wailing Wall to which Jews come to pour out their hearts and share their troubles and requests with the beloved matriarch, hoping to find solace and healing. Jewish tradition attributes unique and wondrous qualities to Rachel’s tears, and visitors to her grave ask her to cry and pray on their behalf.
For centuries, Arab Muslims — while demanding protection money to keep the site in good repair and extortion for Jewish access to it — explicitly acknowledged that Rachel’s Tomb is a Jewish holy place. That all changed during the 1990s, though, when the Palestinians — no doubt sensing a receptive audience abroad — began to refer to the tomb as a mosque. The Muslim religious authorities adopted the name the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah in 1996, and it “eventually took root in Palestinian national discourse.”
A trumped-up case of self-serving historical revisionism? Sure. But if it’s what the Arabs want, it’s the gospel truth. At least according to the UN.
image from the Flickr site קבר רחל אמנו