JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision of a United Nations body to define the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian "absurd."
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the U.N. body in charge of preserving historical sites, at the end of its biannual session last week adopted several proposals by Arab states classifying Jewish and Muslim holy sites.
The Cave of the Patriarchs, according to the Bible, is the place where the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Issac and Jacob are buried. The Muslims call it Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, also because Abraham is buried there.
Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem has been identified as the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque since 1996; prior to that it was referred to in Arabic as Qubat Rachel.
On the question of what the UNESCO board referred to as the "Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb," the board voted 44 to 1 with 12 abstentions to call the site "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law."
“The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd,” Netanyahu said in a statement released last Friday. “If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage, then what is?
“It is regrettable that the organization established to promote historical heritage sites worldwide is trying for political reasons to detach the ties between the Jewish people and their heritage. The state of Israel in contrast to its neighbors will continue to preserve freedom of religion at these sites and preserve them for future generations.”
In February, Netanyahu included both sites on the country’s new national heritage list and allocated money to refurbish them. The decision was condemned throughout the international community.
Over the weekend, on the Jewish Sabbath on which the Torah portion is read that recounts Abraham’s purchase of the cave, some 25,000 Jews gathered in Hebron. Several Israeli lawmakers were among the visitors.