“This irrelevant organization promotes FAKE HISTORY”,
wrote Israel’s Foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon two days ago concerning UNESCO, after the latter voted on a resolution to include Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the Al-Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of Patriarchs) as Palestinian World Heritage sites.
The blast from Israeli officials didn’t stop there. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the organization “anti-Semitic”, the supposed liberal President Reuven Rivlin said that “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies”, and even Labor’s Merav Michaeli called the resolution “insane”.
“Yet another delusional decision by UNESCO. This time they’ve decided that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site, meaning not a Jewish one and listed it an endangered site. Not a Jewish site? Who is buried there? Avraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Leah, our patriarchs and matriarchs.”
Today, Netanyahu resorted to the bible, reading from Genesis 23, which describes Abraham’s purchasing of the Cave of the Patriarchs. Netanyahu did so ostensibly in order to rebuff claims that the site is ‘not Jewish’.
But pause there.
There’s nothing in the UNESCO resolution that suggests that the site does not have Jewish connection. In fact, UNESCO explicitly affirms the historic importance of the place as “a site of pilgrimage for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam”. As Orly Noy notes in her article of today titled ‘There’s nothing anti-Semitic about UNESCO’s Hebron vote’:
“I wonder how many of these politicians bothered reading the resolution before they ran to Twitter to trash it.”
Indeed, UNESCO was not disputing religious connections to the place. What seems to have infuriated the Israelis is that it is considered a PALESTINIAN heritage site.
But UNESCO recognized Palestine back in 2011, as have about three-fourths of the United Nations member states. Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the Al-Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of Patriarchs) are in Palestine. What’s the big deal?
As we see from Netanyahu’s words, the idea of the place being a ‘Palestinian site’ is anathema to it being a ‘Jewish site’. But this is just disingenuous. Orly Noy provides a sobering comparison:
“Esther and Mordechai’s Tomb in Hamadan, Iran is recognized by the Iranian authorities as a Jewish site, yet no one would dream of calling it an Israeli site. Just as the Church of the Multiplication in northern Israel is a Christian site, yet is located in Israel and therefore an Israeli site.”
In other words, there is no contradiction between a site being Palestinian and Jewish at the same time. But for Netanyahu there is.
So what does Netanyahu do after he distorts the wording of the resolution? He takes to reading from the bible. This is the same trick that David Ben-Gurion used when the British Peel commission asked him in 1936 about whether he had a deed or contract of sale that gave him the right to take the place of the native Arabs who have lived here for generations: Ben-Gurion picked up a Bible and declared, “This is our deed!”
And there’s more. Because what is Netanyahu reading? The story about Abraham, who bought the cave for the burial of his wife, Sarah. But Abraham wasn’t ‘Jewish’, really – that term evolved much later. If Abraham is a ‘forefather’ in a spiritual sense, he is the forefather of the three Abrahamic religions, all of which the UNESCO resolution affirms. So, ironically, Netanyahu’s religious preaching, seeking to prove the ‘Jewish connection’ (which UNESCO doesn’t dispute), ends up defeating his attempted point and strengthening UNESCO’s: Yes, the place is important for Jews, but not only for Jews.
The myopic, Jewish-centric ideas that Netanyahu presents betray the exclusivist intents of the Israeli government. It cannot seem to differentiate between state and religion with respect to Israel, and when it comes to Palestine will not accept Palestinian statehood or sovereignty. So it is the Israeli official narrative that is the exclusivist one, not the UNESCO narrative.
The many outraged Israeli politicians are creating fake news, manipulating history in fake ways, and blaming it on UNESCO.