In light of the UNESCO decision last week to classify the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as a Palestinian site, outraged Israeli residents of the West Bank called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm historic and biblical Jewish and Israeli ties to the site by holding a cabinet meeting there.
“We have to say in a clear voice that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Hebron, which is the city of our forefathers, is eternally ours,” Avi Ro’eh, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria head Avi Ro’eh, wrote in a letter to Netanyahu. “It’s a delirious decision that ignores thousand of years of Jewish heritage and denies the cognation between the nation of Israel to one of the four holy cities of the Jewish people.”
Despite recommendations that there was not enough information to add Hebron’s Old Town and the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of world heritage sites in danger, the UN offshoot voted to do so nevertheless in a shocking decision on Friday — and classified it under the State of Palestine.
The complex in Hebron houses the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and, now, a mosque. It is considered the second holiest site in Judaism after the Western Wall. It is sacred to Muslims who revere Abraham (Ibrahim) as a prophet. Hebron is a highly contentious city where some Jews continue to live in the midst of a Palestinian majority.
Before the vote, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem issued a statement denouncing “continuing political misuse of UNESCO to drive a hateful, inflammatory anti-Israel agenda that also is deeply offensive to hundreds of millions of Christian worldwide.”
The ICEJ called on member states to reject the resolution on the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
“This revered burial site of Abraham and the other Hebrew patriarchs and matriarchs is not endangered by Israel, nor is it of Palestinian origin,” said Jürgen Bühler, president of the ICEJ. “To contend otherwise is to distort history, just as a UNESCO advisory board has warned against in recent days. It also intentionally threatens to undermine the delicate status quo established in Hebron by interim agreements recognized by the international community.”
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu slammed the UNESCO decision and read from Genesis regarding the sale of the cave by Ephron the Hittite to Abraham.
In many ways, history is repeating itself. In 1976, Chaim Herzog, serving as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, quoted from that very same chapter from Genesis regarding Hebron and the Tomb —and also submitted the biblical text as an official document to then-UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim.
“For the first time in history, an agreement made almost 4,000 years ago and recorded in the Bible has been issued as a UN document,” the Jerusalem Post reported on Nov. 7, 1976.
Herzog wrote that “the ‘Cave of Machpelah,’ was purchased by the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham about 4,000 years ago.
“Although of great historical moment and certainly of pertinence to the present day, this transaction was not, of course, registered with the Secretariat in accordance with article 102, paragraph 1, since it was not in the nature of an international agreement and, in addition, it was concluded somewhat prior to the coming into force of the [UN] Charter,” he wrote in his letter the Waldheim.
Biblical history notwithstanding, Palestinians welcomed the decision.
The victory proved that the “Palestinian legitimate right could obliterate all Israeli lies that were disseminated worldwide,” Hebron Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneieneh said. “It is a step to end occupation and to create a fully sovereign Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Abu Sneieneh was one of four terrorists who ambushed and killed six Jews in Hebron in 1980, including two American citizens and one Canadian.