The executive committee of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey passed a resolution Nov. 23 protesting “the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) ruling that Israel has no right to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where almost all of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs are buried,” to its list of national heritage sites.
The resolution noted that the “Tomb of the Patriarchs, the oldest Jewish shrine and the second holiest site in Judaism, centers around the Cave of Machpelah, an ancient double cave revered for almost 4,000 years as the burial site of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives. The connection of the Jewish people, and of Christianity, to the Cave of Machpelah was established some 3,800 years ago, when Abraham, the first Hebrew, purchased it for the express purpose of using it as a burial site for himself, his wife Sarah, and their future generations. It is the cradle of Jewish history and the focal point of Jewish identity. The rectangular enclosure over the caves is the only fully surviving Herodian structure. Thus the Tomb of the Patriarchs is of inestimable historical value as well as great sacred significance for the Jewish people.
“We also protest,” the resolution continued, “the decision by UNESCO to re-label as [a] mosque the tomb of Rachel, Israel’s other matriarch, and to demand that Israel remove the site from its national heritage list. The Tomb of Rachel, Judaism’s third-holiest site, has been the scene of prayer and pilgrimage for more than 3,000 years, and has an especially meaningful connection for Jewish women.
“Until 2000,” the resolution pointed out, “the Palestinians recognized the site as Rachel’s Tomb. It was called ‘Rachel’s Tomb’ in Al-mawsu’ah al-filastiniyah, the Palestinian encyclopedia published after 1996 and in ‘Palestine, the Holy Land,’ a Palestinian publication with an introduction by Yasser Arafat. However, during the second intifada, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, a Palestinian daily, announced a new-found historical connection to Rachel’s Tomb, declaring that it was ‘originally a Muslim mosque.'”
The resolution charged that, “in cooperating with efforts to erase Jewish historical ties to Israel, UNESCO is aiding and abetting those who hope to obfuscate Israel’s Jewish past and undermine Israel’s Jewish future. The UNESCO mission states: ‘Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.'”
The resolution protested “UNESCO’s decision to ignore this mission statement when it comes to the Jewish heritage of these ancient biblical burial sites.
“Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized,” the resolution urged, “not swept away to conform with a pro-Palestinian political narrative. In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious, and historical bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member U.N. nation, and undermines its own principles. It aims to rob the Jewish people not only of two sacred sites, which are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, but also of their past and a legacy to pass on to future generations. We demand that UNESCO, whose purpose it is to protect heritage, also protect Jewish and Christian heritage in the Holy Land, rather than deny it.”