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Op-Ed: In defense of Jewish heritage

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Imagine if someone forbade you from seeing your loved ones or banned you from visiting the graves of your grandparents. Imagine they told you that you have no right to come to your family home and your identity was simply a figment of your imagination.

Israelis deal with claims like these as a nation each and every day — constant charges that the Jewish people have no right to their ancient homeland.

A new wave of Palestinian rage was unleashed recently following the inclusion of Judaism’s second holiest shrine, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and the tomb of our matriarch Rachel in Bethlehem on the new list of national heritage sites. It is important to note that the list will serve as a budgetary directive to governmental agencies to ensure that these religious and historical sites receive the appropriate funding for their proper upkeep, not as any sort of political statement.

The decision led to Arab riots across Judea and Samaria and included incendiary statements from their leaders. Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas went so far as to declare the beginning of a third intifada. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the move “a very dangerous provocation that could lead to a war of religions.”

It’s ironic how sensitive the Palestinians can be when their sovereignty over our holy sites is questioned. There was no condemnation from their leaders when Arab mobs ransacked the Tomb of Joseph minutes after Israel handed over responsibility of the site to the Palestinian Authority in October 2000. In fact, I recently visited the Tomb of Joseph — accompanied by a heavily armed military escort – where I was shocked to see the sad state of disrepair at one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

It would seem that in the Holy Land, religious tolerance and freedom of expression is a one-way street. The State of Israel has worked tirelessly to ensure the preservation of religious freedom — for all faiths — since its inception. This concept is so fundamental that it was incorporated in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which declares that "The State of Israel will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions."

The best example of this is the holy city of Jerusalem, which under Israeli jurisdiction since 1967 is truly open to worship by all of the world’s religions for the first time in thousands of years. If only our Arab neighbors shared our concerns, then maybe there would be a chance for coexistence.

At Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Waqf (the Muslim religious authority granted autonomous control by Israel) bans non-Muslims from any religious expression, including the use of prayer books or Bibles. In direct contradiction to Israeli law, Jews who attempt to express any form of religious practice are forcibly removed from the area by Israeli security forces for the sake of placating the Muslim religious authorities.

Thus Mount Moriah, which according to Jewish tradition should be a place of peace for all nations, has turned into a volatile powder keg that no politician is ready to approach lest it be met with violent backlashes. It is ironic that our most precious heritage site was not included on the list because our Arab neighbors have succeeded in convincing the world that might is right.

The Palestinian backlash against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s list of heritage sites must be understood in the context of our recent history.

Just as the second intifada was branded wrongfully as a defense of the Temple Mount mosques after Ariel Sharon’s peaceful visit, the current aggression has nothing to do with religion.

Time and again, Palestinian leaders have tried to spread mistruths in an attempt to erase any Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. Abbas’ doctoral thesis attempted to disprove the veracity of the Holocaust. His predecessor, Yasser Arafat, claimed that the Jewish Holy Temple never stood in Jerusalem despite archaeological evidence and contrary to the belief of millions of Jews and Christians.

It is time that we put an end to this blatant and egregious revision of history. I hope that with the help of the new heritage sites legislation, future generations of Israelis will grow closer to their roots and gain a deeper understanding of our irrefutable bond to this land.

(Danny Danon is deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and chairman of World Likud.)
 

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