Israel Includes Two West Bank Holy Sites on Israel Heritage Sites List

Israel Includes Two West Bank Holy Sites on Israel Heritage Sites List
After an Israeli cabinet meeting on February 21, 2010, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that two holy sites located in the West Bank, the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (also known to the Israelis as the Tomb of the Patriarchs) and Rachel’s Tomb north of Bethlehem city, will be included on a list of Israeli national heritage sites to be restored. It was made clear that this decision came at the end of the meeting due to pressure from national Israeli rightwing ministers who claimed that a good comprehensive plan to restore heritage sites would not be a plan at all without including the Ibrahimi Mosque and Rachel’s Tomb

 Map 1: Location of Rachel’s Tomb – Bethlehem
Map 2: Location of the Ibrahimi Mosque – Hebron
In the meeting, Netanyahu stated: ‘Our existence here in our country depends not only on the strength of the IDF and our economic and technological might. It is anchored, first and foremost, in our national and emotional legacy, which we instill in our youth and in the coming generations,’ and, ‘It depends on cultural heroes and national symbols. It depends on our ability to recognize and explain the justice of our cause, and to underscore our links to the land, first and foremost, to ourselves as well as to others.’
Additionally Uri Ariel, an Israeli Knesset member, said that ‘these sites are a symbol of the people of Israel’s connection to these areas which cannot be cutoff.’
These statements represent Israel’s ideological view that all of the land of Palestine and Israel belongs to them based on their people’s history in this land. He also focuses on the Jewish people’s legacy which must continue while discounting the Palestinian people’s need to survive.  These comments also delegitimize Palestinian history and claims to the land as well as other faiths connections to these holy sites. 
The Palestinian National Authority stated that the Israeli cabinet decision is risky as it inflames the religious ambit of the conflict.  The PNA spokesman, Ghassan Khatib said that this resolution could take the conflict in a dangerous direction.
Based on this Israeli decision, about 100 protestors in Hebron took to the streets and clashed with the Israeli military. The protestors fear that their access will be restricted to these holy sites, and that Israel will significantly change the character of the sites, especially the Ibrahimi Mosque. In relation to the historical religious sites, it is against international law for the occupier to change historical heritage of the occupied.  This unilateral resolution by Israel is another action to consolidate its control over key West Bank cities and regions.  In addition to the protests, the day after the cabinet meeting there was a general strike in Hebron to express fury at Israel’s unilateral decision.
The outrage at the Israeli cabinet decision comes as the Israeli government appears to claim that these holy sites are a part of Israel, when in fact they are located in the occupied West Bank.  It is just another Israeli tactic to further solidify control over the West Bank and to ‘prove’ its people’s history in the land.  Not only is Israel putting West Bank holy sites on an Israeli list of heritage sites, it is also ignoring the reality that these holy places are significant to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.  Under the Oslo Agreement all religions are supposed to have continuous unimpeded access to all holy sites.  Additionally, the Ibrahim Mosque was designated as a “special case” where Israel is responsible for security while at the same time Palestinians are to have free movement on the main road to Jerusalem. Concerning Rachel’s Tomb, the Oslo II Agreement states, “The present situation and existing practices in the Tomb shall be preserved.”  was designated as a “special case” where Israel is responsible for security while at the same time Palestinians are to have free movement on the main road to Jerusalem. Concerning Rachel’s Tomb, the Oslo II Agreement states, “The present situation and existing practices in the Tomb shall be preserved.” 
Despite the Oslo Agreement and the fact that before the Wall was built, Palestinians were able to access Rachel’s Tomb as some  had shops located at the site, not all people have had uninhibited access to all holy sites.  During the years 2001-2003 Israel started restricting Palestinian access to the Tomb as the Israeli Army used it as a military base.  In 2003, after the Wall started to be built around the Tomb Palestinians were completely blocked from accessing the Tomb, their shops, and homes.  Moreover, eighteen dunums of land was confiscated to build the Wall around Rachel’s Tomb and 3000 dunums have been isolated on the Israeli “side” of the Wall; all of this land belonged to residents of Bethlehem or Beit Jala.  
 There are 500 settlers in Hebron protected by 1500-2000 Israeli soldiers. The first settlements were created in Hebron after the 1967 War as Jews wanted to continue their presence in the West Bank and near sites of historical importance to Jews.  Under international law all of the settlements in the West Bank are illegal.  Since 2007 Hebron’s character has changed drastically due to settler and army presences.  In order to protect the small number of settlers and to tightly control the city the Israeli army issued a military order and closed down Shehada Street, the main street heading to the mosque, for Palestinians.  Only Jewish Israelis and internationals are allowed to use this road now. Shehada Street was once the main thriving commercial market area but once the Military blocked it off all the shops were forced to close and their doors were bolted shut.  Seventy seven percent of the old city shops have been closed down.  There are also other streets and areas that are Jewish only and the Military has set up various checkpoints throughout the city.  As a result of checkpoints, and Israeli imposed curfews Muslims have been restricted from going to the Ibrahimi Mosque. 
Moreover peace negotiations between the PNA and Israel have been frozen for over a year due to disagreements on pre-conditions to peace talks.  The PNA wants Israel to completely stop all settlement activity including natural growth and East Jerusalem settlements.  The PNA has said that this decision to include West Bank holy sites on Israel’s national heritage site list is an endeavor by Netanyahu to ruin attempts to resume peace talks.
Based on Israeli Basic Law, Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, Jerusalem is the complete and united capital of Israel; Israel views East Jerusalem as part of its capital, and does not consider settlements in the West Bank illegal.  The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 478 (1980) vehemently condemns Israel’s Basic Law about Jerusalem and confirms that this law violates international law.  Furthermore, UNSC Resolution 446 (1979) determined that settlements built in Palestinian and other Arab territories since 1967 have no legal basis and gravely obstruct the possibility of a lasting Middle East Peace.
Israel continues to violate international law and does not heed the criticism from any outside party and this latest action of declaring two West Bank holy sites to be on the list of Israeli holy sites to be restored will further delay any possibility for peace negotiations to resume.  Additionally, as the PA has warned, Netanyahu’s declaration could inflame the religious aspect of the conflict and allow the situation to take a turn for the worst.

Categories: Israeli Plans