Quite incredibly, representatives of Western democracies on UNESCO’s executive delivered a self-destructive blow to their own heritage when demanding that Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron be removed from the inventory of Jewish heritage sites. UNESCO’s resolution redefined them as mosques – as if Muslim from time immemorial. It sought to detach seminal biblical place-names from any Jewish connections.
It’s one thing to willfully subscribe to mind-blowing colossal deception; it’s quite another to shake the foundations beneath one’s own civilization.
Politically incorrect as it may be in our postmodern, multicultural existence, Europe’s and America’s democracies are constructed on Christian foundations. By accepting Muslim deconstructionist diktats, the West not only injures the Jews, it injures its own legacy.
To be fair, the world’s current most inveterate revisers of the past, the Muslims, are relative newcomers to the fanciful world of fabricated historiography. Long before Islam existed, Christians were obsessed with their own retrospective rewriting and they were preceded by pagans. Perhaps it was all already foretold by the biblical Balaam, who prophesied (Numbers 23:9) that Israel shall be “a people who dwells alone and shall not be counted among the nations.”
Consequently Christianity could expend so much effort on cleansing the historic Jesus of his Jewishness. But telltale vestiges remain in the New Testament attesting to the truth which volumes of convoluted rationalizations and distortions couldn’t quite erase. Just turn to Mark 12:28-30, where Jesus is asked which is the most important commandment of all. He replies without equivocation: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might.”
Any Jew would instantaneously recognize this as the primary article of Jewish faith, a direct quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. For observant Jews it is an obligatory prayer each morning and evening. It’s the Jewish bedtime prayer. It’s the prayer inscribed within the mezuza on every Jewish doorpost. It’s the final prayer uttered by the faithful before death. It is the prayer with which Jewish martyrs perished at the hands of their executioners – whether from the ranks of the Catholic Inquisition, Muslim jihadists or Hitler’s henchmen. It is what Jesus valued most.
He surely would unreservedly identify Hebron and Bethlehem as incontestably Jewish and the tombs therein as unquestionably sacred to Jews like him. Thus when Christians voted as they did to call the Cave of the Patriarchs the Ibrahimi Mosque and Rachel’s Tomb the Bilal ibn-Rabah Mosque, they thereby also belied and betrayed Christianity. Their narrative cannot stand apart from Jewish history.
SINCE ISLAM’S debut on the world stage, however, Muslims have made it their routine custom to expropriate the holy sites of others. When Muslim conquistadors first invaded Jerusalem, they called it Bayt al-Maqdis, their adaptation of the Hebrew Beit Hamikdash – the Holy Temple. Al Quds – the contemporary Arabic contraction for this original appellation – daily highlights the very Jewish heritage which Arabs now take inordinate pains to obliterate.
Their latest claim is that the very inclusion of the Hebron and Bethlehem tombs among Jewish heritage sites will somehow compromise Muslim freedom of worship.
The irony is that Arab notions of freedom don’t extend to others. One hundred years ago Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (in time Israel’s second president) and his wife Rachel Yana’it Ben-Zvi hiked to Hebron. Each described, in separate books, how they were barred from the cave.
Ben-Zvi wrote: “The entrance to the Patriarchs’ Cave was prohibited to non-Muslims. Jews were allowed to climb no higher than the seventh step in the courtyard. Only brave-hearted Jewish women dared enter, masquerading in Arab garb and their faces veiled according to Arab custom.”
Rachel recalled: “Hebron’s Jewish women would sometimes infiltrate the cave veiled and costumed like Arabs. Only by stealth could they pray at our forefathers’ tombs. When Hebron’s Arab fanaticism escalated, Jews were forbidden even to glance into the cave. Hate spewed from the Arab guards’ eyes and from Arab worshipers who brushed against us on their way in. We arrived at the steps and stood silent. I refused to climb the seven permitted stairs. The insult was too searing.”
So much for Arab pluralism and tolerance. Actually, the Arabs don’t demand liberal equality of us, which we anyway grant. They want it all and they want us out, as they did when their forebears descended in 1929 on peaceful homes in Hebron’s ancient Jewish community and hideously hacked their innocent inhabitants to death to glorify Allah.
Were Israelis to unconditionally submit to ever-mutating Arab historiography, all attachments to the Western Wall and Mount of Olives would have to be abjectly relinquished. By the wisdom of reworked Arab chronicles and UNESCO, it behooves us to obey. Hence Jerusalem isn’t one whit different from Hebron or Bethlehem.
Bethlehem’s case is the most enlightening. Until 1996 Bethlehem Arabs themselves spoke of Rachel’s Tomb.
Only then, at the height of their terror offensive, did they switch to calling it the Bilal Ibn-Rabah Tomb. Ibn-Rabah was an African slave and Muhammad’s muezzin, reputed to have fallen in battle in Syria. Indeed Damascus’s Bab Saghir Cemetery has dibs on what’s said to be his grave.
In July 2000 Yasser Arafat insisted to Bill Clinton at Camp David that no Jewish temple ever existed. This is now an official PA mantra. PA headliner cleric Sheikh Taissir Tamimi proclaims repeatedly that “Jerusalem has always only been Arab and Islamic.” The Cave of the Patriarchs, he declared, “is a pure mosque, which Jewish presence defiles. Jews have no right to pray there, much less claim any bond to Hebron – an Arab city for 5,000 years. All Palestine is holy Muslim soil. Jews are foreign interlopers.”
In 1950 poet Natan Alterman penned a tongue-in-cheek reply to a near-identical proclamation (“Palestine is an Arab country and always was. Foreigners have no part in it.”) Entitled “An Arab Land,” Alterman’s verses appeared on the Labor daily Davar’s front page. By replacing biblical Hebrew names with Arabic adaptations, Alterman appeared to amplify the spirit of progressive Arab scholarship. I translated it two decades ago:
A clear night. Treetops shiver,
Vibrating the view with an airy whisper.
From above, Arab evening stars
Sparkle over an Arab land.
The stars wink and flicker
And bestow their quivering glitter
Upon the tranquil city Al-Quds
In which once reigned King Daoud.
And from there they gaze and witness
The city of El Halil in the distance.
The city of Father Ibrahim’s tomb,
Ibrahim who begat Is’hak.
And then the clever rays so fast
Rush the golden glow to cast
Where the waters of the river El Urdun flow,
Where Ya’acub once did go.
A clear night. With an airy wink
The stars legitimately blink
Over the mountains of an Arab land
Which Mussa from afar beheld.