The second holiest place in Judaism has been declared a world heritage site for the Palestinians by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Jews have claimed Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs as the burial site for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Jews were praying at this site half a millennia before Islam was even invented. From Wikipedia:
Dating back over 2,000 years, the monumental Herodian compound is believed to be the oldest continuously used intact prayer structure in the world, and is the oldest major building in the world that still fulfills its original function. The Hebrew name of the complex reflects the very old tradition of the double tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, considered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, who are all believed to be buried there.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had it about right: “The UNESCO vote on Hebron is tragic on several levels. It represents an affront to history,” Haley said in a statement.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words reflected the outrage of Jewish people everywhere:
“This time, they determined that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian heritage site, meaning that it is not a Jewish site and that it is in danger.”
“Not a Jewish site?” he asked. “After all, who is buried there? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, our patriarchs and matriarchs,” Netanyahu said.
“The site is in danger? Only in places where Israel exists, like in Hebron, is freedom of worship guaranteed for all,” he said.
“Everywhere else in the Middle East, mosques, churches and synagogues are being destroyed,” Netanyahu said. “We’ll continue to safeguard the Cave of the Patriarchs, freedom of religion and truth.”
Netanyahu ordered $1 million in Israeli funding for a Jewish heritage museum in Hebron be pulled.
The UNESCO vote was 12-3 with 6 abstentions. There was considerable maneuvering by delegates:
The resolution that was approved made no mention of the problems with the Palestinian Authority’s application that the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) detailed in its report.
ICOMOS, the professional body that evaluates sites, took issue with the application, particularly with respect to the focus on the Muslim period of a city that has such strong roots in three monotheistic religions.
An initial paragraph summarizing the committee’s reservations was rejected by the World Heritage Committee. A number of member states noted in the debate that the ICOMOS report marked the first time the organization had not clearly rejected a site that it failed to recommend.
After more than an hour of technical debates, the World Heritage Committee adopted instead a new amended text by Lebanon, Kuwait and Tunisia.
That text stated that the Palestinian Authority application did meet the criteria for both the World Heritage List and as an endangered site. The language made no specific reference to any religion or the cave, but other documents related to the inscription do take up both issues.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki praised the outcome in a statement. “This vote is considered a success in the diplomatic battle Palestine is fighting on all fronts.”
The bottom line: UNESCO had to twist itself into diplomatic knots in order to hand the Palestinians recognition of a site they do not have any claim to. In fact, UNESCO had to invent reasoning to give the Palestinians what they wanted.
The Palestinians do not recognize a significant Jewish presence in the Holy Land until well after Muslims took it over. They prevent archaeological digs, fearing evidence of Jewish habitation will be uncovered. And now, they are denying that one of the holiest sites of the Jewish people is Jewish.
An “affront to history,” indeed.