The Palestinian Authority (PA) is requesting that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognize Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, as a Palestinian World Heritage Site.
In their request to UNESCO, the PA is asking UNESCO to fast track the process, claiming the site is in danger of destruction by the “occupying force,” citing a number of Israeli moves including the erection of a concrete casting at the site as proof.
Since being recognized as a UNESCO member state in 2011, two sites – Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the ancient terraces of Battir – have been recognized as Palestinian World Heritage Sites.
Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as the Cave of Machpelah, is considered the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The cave, which the Bible records as being purchased by the Patriarch Abraham, is said to be the burial place of Abraham along with other biblical figures such as Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.
So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof round about, were made sure unto Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. Genesis 23:17-18
The Wye River Accords gave the Islamic Waqf, a Muslim administrative body, control over most of the Cave of the Patriarchs. As such, Jewish prayer is limited to certain sections of the building, and Jews are only allowed to visit other sections during certain holidays.
Meanwhile, convincing the 21-country Heritage Committee to reject the Palestinian move will be problematic for Israel as a number of Arab and Muslim countries are on the committee and they are not likely to support Israel.
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen slammed the move by the Palestinians as a continuation of its efforts to deny Jewish links to their holy sites.
“This is a clear continuation of the attacks and hallucinatory outrageous votes in UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” said Shama-Hacohen. “Israel respects Muslim sensibilities and ensures freedom of worship, order, security, routine maintenance, and the development of infrastructure supporting the holy sites.”