09 November 2010
The UN's cultural body, UNESCO, has angered Jews around the world by recognizing two ancient Jews sites as 'Palestinian'. At the end of October the UNESCO Executive Board adopted proposals, from Arab member states, to recognise Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs as “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories”. In a 44-1 vote, with 12 abstentions, the board also asserted that "any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.”
One of the sites, in the West Bank city of Hebron, has been a flashpoint for decades. Jews call it the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Bible says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives. Muslims call it the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, reflecting the fact that Abraham is considered the father of both Judaism and Islam. Earlier this year, Israel registered the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb as national heritage sites.
Jewish leaders were quick to criticize the UNESCO vote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the vote by the UNESCO Executive Board as an “attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage”. He said: “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?"
WJC President Lauder wrote a letter to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, protesting the board's decision, stating "The importance and holiness of these two sites to the Jewish people indeed predate their importance to other religious groups, and to deny this is to deny history."
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