By Alex Traiman/JNS.org
The United Nations cultural body UNESCO Friday passed a resolution declaring Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs as an endangered Palestinian heritage site, in the latest example of what legal experts are calling “narrative warfare” against Israel and Jews.
As part of an ongoing Palestinian-engineered diplomatic campaign, an “emergency resolution” UNESCO presented to its World Heritage Committee claimed Israel is causing “irreversible negative effect on the integrity, authenticity and/or the distinctive character of the property,” which the resolution refers to not as the Cave of the Patriarchs, but as the Ibrahimi Mosque. The site is where the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs are believed to be buried. The measure was approved Friday in a 12-3 vote, with six abstentions, during UNESCO’s summit in Krakow, Poland.
“This is a badge of shame for UNESCO, who time after time chooses to stand on the side of lies,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Friday, adding, “In another thousand years, the Cave of the Patriarchs will remain under Jewish sovereignty and UNESCO will cease to exist as a heritage organization.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said, “This attempt to sever the ties between Israel and Hebron is shameful and offensive, and eliminates UNESCO’s last remaining shred of credibility. To disassociate Israel from the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our nation is an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”
Yishai Fleisher, international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, noted in an interview before the vote that the holy site’s largest room is reserved almost exclusively for use as a mosque by local Arabs.
“Anyone who comes to the Cave of the Patriarchs can see that the building is well-maintained, and open for members of all faiths to pray,” Fleisher told JNS.org.
Further, Fleisher explained that like the Western Wall, “the Cave of the Patriarchs monument was built by a Jewish king”—King Herod, more than 2,000 years ago.
“Suggesting first, that the site of the burial of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs is a Palestinian heritage site, and then suggesting that the site is in danger, is a fraudulent interpretation of history. It is a classic case of the narrative warfare the Palestinians are waging on the Jewish people,” said Fleisher, a trained lawyer.
In May, UNESCO’s Executive Board passed a resolution denying Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Last October, UNESCO passed two separate resolutions ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Irony of the vote
According to Eugene Kontorovich, a senior researcher at the Kohelet Policy Forum think tank and a professor of law at Northwestern University, the Palestinians are “essentially turning the U.N. specialized agencies into an echo chamber for the most extreme, deranged anti-science claims, and making a laughingstock of the U.N.”
“It is particularly ironic that the U.N.’s economic, science and culture organization is taking as anti-science a measure as one can get, because there is no debate amongst historians about the Jewish connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs,” Kontorovich told JNS.org before Friday’s vote. “As a matter of historical science, that is not disputed.”
“The Cave of the Patriarchs has been there for over 3,500 years (predating King Herod’s monument at the site), so it is very strange that all of a sudden there is an emergency,” Kontorovich said.
Kontorovich pointed out that UNESCO’s resolution targeted the one holy site at which members of any faith can openly come to pray, and have for decades.
“It is ironic that this is being treated is an emergency, because what we see is in areas where there is Palestinian or Muslim control, Jews cannot freely access for prayer, such as the Temple Mount, and more acutely, the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem. That would be a true issue for UNESCO to address,” he said.
‘Pogrom on Jewish history’
Kontorovich said the “truly shameless part” is that UNESCO held the vote in Krakow.
“The place where Jews were killed without a burial in Europe is the place where the Palestinians are going to deny the very first Jewish burial place,” he said, adding, “I would hope that the Polish government, that really tries hard to honor the memory of the Holocaust, would not allow the site of one of the largest crematoria in Europe to be used for an attempt to erase Jews from history.”
Echoing this sentiment, Fleisher called the vote a “pogrom on Jewish history taking place in Krakow.”
Unilateral actions and responses
While the Oslo Accords call for neither Israelis nor Palestinians to take unilateral actions, the Palestinians “feel that they can do whatever they want unilaterally within the international diplomatic and political scene, without fearing any consequence,” Kontorovich said.
“The question is whether there will be any consequences, and what is the Israeli government going to do?” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday he has ordered a $1 million cut in Israel’s annual U.N. dues after UNESCO approved the Hebron measure. In May, Israel also deducted $1 million in annual U.N. funding after the resolution on sovereignty in Jerusalem. Israel withheld $2 million from the world body following the passage of anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, and cut $6 million in U.N. funds in the aftermath of last December’s U.N. Security Council Resolution that described eastern Jerusalem’s Jewish holy sites as “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Kontorovich said Israel should go further and “cut the last penny to UNESCO,” particularly because the U.S. already no longer funds the cultural body. He asked, “How can it be that Israel is contributing to UNESCO, and the U.S. is not?”