Under pressure from UNESCO, Israel has agreed to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb—two Jewish holy sites on the West Bank—from its list of “National Heritage Sites.” This of course immediately sparked a backlash from Israel’s religious right, with Science and Technology Minister Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz calling the omission “like denying our elementary heritage.” (The Algemeiner, Feb. 1) Following recent clashes at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Palestinian protesters also vented rage at the Rachel’s Tomb site Feb. 21, hurling stones and prompting closure of the compound. Jewish visitors were evacuated by the Border Guard. (YNet, Feb. 21)
As with the recent Jerusalem violence, Palestinian rage came in response to Zionist provocation. Two days before the Rachel’s Tomb incident, Israeli settlers sent out text messages calling for a mass Jewish convergence on the site, which is revered by Muslims as Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque (named for an Abyssinian who was the Prophet Mohammed’s first muezzin). (WAFA, Feb. 19) Over the past year, far-right Israeli settlers have been staging a series of militant occupations of Jewish holy sites on the West Bank. Rachel’s Tomb is closely enclosed by Israel’s “Separation Barrier,” and has been the target of an ongoing campaign to claim it as an exclusively Jewish site. In one April 2010 incident, the shrine was vandalized by presumed right-wing settlers, with a Star of David and other graffiti sprayed on a wall. (Ma’an News Agency, April 15, 2010)
The site’s inclusion on the “Israeli” side of the Separation Barrier violates the spirit (at least) of the Oslo Accords, which placed it in Area C—that under ostensibly “temporary” Israeli control pending transfer to the Palestinians. Provisions of the Accords also guaranteed the “free movement” of Palestinians to the site, now bottlenecked by the Barrier. (POICA)
There was also violence at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Feb. 28, as Palestinians holding a procession commemorating the 1994 massacre at the site by an Israeli settler were set upon by Israeli security forces. Troops used special “non-lethal” crowd-control weapons, including the “Skunk”—a vehicle mounted with canons spraying a foul-smelling liquid. (YNet, Feb. 28)
The wave of ultra-orthodox vigilante violence that has been mounting even within Israel took a grim turn Feb. 28 as a 70-year-old woman—herself an ultra-Orthodox Jew—was beaten by thugs who broke into her home, leaving her handcuffed and bleeding. The self-appointed “Modesty Patrol” apparently mistook her for a Christian missionary. As they beat her—breaking her right hand with a metal rod and using their cell phones to document the attack—they taunted her: “You are destroying the neighborhood with you missionary teachings.” (YNet, Feb. 29)
From New Jewish Resistance, Feb. 29
See our last post on the West Bank.