Israeli “national heritage” list “blurs border” with Palestinian territories

The Israeli government’s decision to include two West Bank locations—the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb—on a list of “national heritage sites” has sparked an uproar in the country’s political circles. Chaim Oron, chairman of the left-wing Meretz party, slammed the decision Feb. 21, saying “This is another attempt to blur the borders between the State of Israel and the occupied territories.”

Speaking of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University last June, Oron said, “This decision puts Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan declaration of two states for two peoples in an absurd light.”

The right, of course, welcomed the addition of the sites to the heritage site plan. “It’s a pity that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb need to lobby in order to get onto the list of heritage sites that require government support,” said MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi). “Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs form the base for all the other sites.”

“This is another sign of the intractable link between the Jewish people and this area,” said MK Uri Yehuda Ariel (National Union). “A day will come when other areas, such as Sebastia and Kfar Etzion, which are the first Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, will also become national heritage sites.”

Yesha Council chairman Danny Dayan said, “A morning of struggle ended in success. This is a significant and historic achievement for the Jewish nation. I am filled with hope that the construction freeze, which prevents building from Afula to Arad, will soon come to an end.”

Netanyahu instructed that these two additional sites, both in the West Bank city of Hebron, be included on the last at the last minute, after pressure from various cabinet ministers. The plan was unanimously approved.

The Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that the decision was an attempt by Netanyahu’s government to “wreck international efforts aimed at returning to talks.” (AlJazeera, Feb. 22; YNet, Feb. 21)

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  1. AJC embraces annexation of West Bank?
    From the American Jewish Committee, Nov. 2, emphasis added:

    AJC on “Shameful” UNESCO Vote Designating Jewish Holy Sites as “Palestinian”
    AJC condemned the recent decision of the international cultural body UNESCO to designate two historic Jewish sites in the Land of Israel as “Palestinian.”

    In a 44-1 vote, with 12 abstentions, the UNESCO board declared the “Haram al-Ibrahim/the Cave of the Patriarchs and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb” to be “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories” and asserted “that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.” In addition, Rachel’s Tomb was named as a mosque. Both sites are among the most sacred in the Jewish tradition.

    “This is a shameful decision which places UNESCO in the camp of those who would deny the historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “This politically motivated exercise in revisionism will never wipe out the truth: that these sites have always been Jewish, are Jewish and will forever be Jewish.”

    UNESCO demanded that Israel remove the two sites from its list of national heritage sites after protests from Arab and Muslim countries, including Turkey. Only the United States opposed the resolution.

    “Once again, the United States has courageously stood up for justice and truth in the halls of the United Nations,” said Harris. “We echo the words of the United States Ambassador to UNESCO, who stated, ‘we cannot support this draft decision, which supposes authority that UNESCO does not and should not possess.'”

    “In the Land of Israel”? Excuse us? The implicit denial of these sites’ sacred character for Muslims is perhaps to be expected. But is AJC now embracing annexationist claims that the West Bank is actually part of the “Land of Israel”? Perhaps some ambivalence can be conceded in use of the word “land” rather than “state”—meaning the historical land and not the contemporary state of Israel. But this is still a dishonest and dangerous obfuscation at the very best…

    1. whats the current situation on the ground?
      what has happened since unesco made this ruling?

      kever rachel is the tomb of the mother of the jewish people, which is precisely why it is also visited and respected by muslim and christian people. i would like to know how the management at kever rachel has been impacted by unesco’s action. who currently has access to the tomb? the mosque? the cemetary?

      thank you for reporting the news on all these important issues. i hope that you will educate us on the jewish, muslim, and christian relationships with rachel’s tomb and that you can offer a sane, informed process to a peace strategy which takes everyone’s spiritual heritage and practice into consideration.

      there’s much more being said than ajc’s response to unesco – which condemned the denial of jewish historic ties to the land of its ancestral burial and made no reference to annexation of the west bank whatsoever. your title is misleading and reinforces the american jewish mainstream’s fear of antisemitic spins in the left. you have previously advocated beautifully against conspiracy theories about jews – please do not fall into that camp by stretching your conclusions as you have done in your knee-jerk analysis of this mainstream jewish organization’s reaction to the ruling from unesco.

      i have always thought of you as a thorough and responsible reporter. besides all the write-ups in israeli newspapers about this jewish site, many videos can be found online of thousands of jewish people making pilgrimage and praying at rachel’s tomb. will you please provide relevant context for your readers?

      don’t let the turkish prime minister’s hatred fool you! “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday continued his verbal assault on Israel, according to Saudi paper Al Wattan, which quoted him as saying that that al Aksa Mosque, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.” ( He said this in March 2010, weeks before the flotilla left Turkish-occupied Cypress for Gaza, days after the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee called the Turkish massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians genocide, when Turkey brought home its ambassador from Washington.

      you quote the ajc press release “UNESCO demanded that Israel remove the two sites from its list of national heritage sites after protests from Arab and Muslim countries, including Turkey.” please expound. peace.

      1. Rachel’s tomb is not in Israel. Period.
        The facts on the ground have certainly not been affected by the UNESCO vote, since Israel routinely ignores the UN. While the Cave of Patriarchs is divided into a Jewish side and a Muslim side, with both having access to worship, Rachel’s Tomb seems to be under exclusive Jewish control despite the fact that Muslims claim it as a mosque, and the dome over the tomb was built in Ottoman times.

        AJC’s response to UNESCO did not condemn “the denial of Jewish historic ties to the land.” It flatly asserted that the sites are “in the Land of Israel,” and condemned UNESCO’s recognition that they are in fact on occupied Palestinian land.

        UNESCO did not say a word about “Jewish historic ties to the land”—neither denying such ties, nor asserting them. It protested that Israel has included the two sites on a list of “national heritage sites” despite the fact that they are outside Israel’s borders. Including sites outside national boundaries on such a list is surely without precedent, and certainly demands strong protest.

        There is nothing misleading or anti-Semitic about my title. Including sites outside of national boundaries on a “national heritage sites” list is implicitly annexationist, and referring to these sites as “in the Land of Israel” is almost explicitly annexationist. (The only wiggle room, which I acknowledged, is that AJC refrained from saying “state of Israel”—but that doesn’t change the clear implication.)

        Rachel’s Tomb is on the “Israeli” side of the West Bank “security barrier” (AKA the Apartheid Wall). In 2002, when construction of the wall commenced, Ha’aretz editorialized:

        The security cabinet’s decision to add the Rachel’s Tomb compound to the Jerusalem security envelope cannot be described as anything other than full annexation of the compound.

        Is Ha’aretz anti-Semitic too?

        I am not being “fooled” by Turkish propaganda. I have pointed out Turkey’s hypocrisy on this issue repeatedly. Israel, by the way, is deeply complicit in Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide.

        Denying that these sites are sacred to Jews is no more or less wrong than denying that they are sacred to Muslims. AJC and Erdogan are birds of a feather.

        Jews, Muslims and Christians alike had access to these sites for hundreds of years under Islamic rule (Umayyad, Abbasid, Seljuk and Ottoman). Jews were denied access for the 19 years between 1949 and 1967 because of the de facto state of war. Maintaining multi-faith access to these sites is contingent on peace—and that, in turn, requires uncompromising opposition to annexationist agendas.