The Cave of the Jewish Matriarch and Arab Cultural Appropriation

This weekend, Jews around the world will read the weekly portion of Chayai Sarah, the Lives of Sarah.

The story is told in Genesis chapter 23 of Abraham buying a plot of land in Kiryat Arba (Hebron) to bury his wife Sarah. Verses 10 through 20 relay the story of Abraham’s negotiation to buy the land from Ephron the Hittite. The transaction represents the first purchase of land recorded in the Bible, cementing God’s earlier promise of the holy land to Abraham in hard fact.

Sarah is a particular and divisive character in the Bible. In her attempt to protect her only son Isaac, Sarah demanded that Abraham send away his first son Ishmael whom he had with another woman. God tells Abraham that the familial divide is a good idea, to follow Sarah’s suggestion and send Ishmael away, and that each son will grow to become a great nation. Sarah’s son Isaac would have progeny who would become the Jews, and Ishmael’s children would become the Arab nation.

Abraham would ultimately be buried next to his wife Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah which he bought for her, as would Isaac and his wife, and Abraham’s grandson Jacob and three of his four wives/ maidens. The family burial chamber became one of the holiest locations for Jews (second only to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).

Medallion of Cave of Machpelah on the roof of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem
(photo: First.One.Through)

Roughly 1,700 years after the Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs were buried, King Herod built a large building on top of the cave (around 2,000 years ago). The building remains very similar to the structure he built at that time.

But Jews would ultimately lose control of their holy site. When the Arabs invaded the holy land in the 7th and 8th century in their wave of bringing Islam to the world, they took over Herod’s edifice. While all of the people buried in the location were Jews, the Arabs claimed the entirety of the site due to their connection to Abraham. The Arabs barred any Jew from entering the building for over 1,000 years.

That changed in 1967.

After Jordan illegally annexed the city of Hebron/Kiryat Arba in 1950, they attacked Israel and lost the city in 1967. With the Jewish State assuming control of the city, it allowed Jews – and all faiths – to return to the building to visit and worship.


The Cave of the Jewish Matriarchs and Patriarchs is the site of the very first Jewish burial. It contains the remains of six of the seven original Jews (the seventh is located in the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem). It has been a pilgrimage site for Jews for thousands of years.

But the Arab and Muslim invasion stole that legacy. Over their thousand plus-years of control, the Muslim Arabs attempted to strip the site of its Jewish heritage and turned the building into a mosque. The capstone of their cultural appropriation was banning all Jews from the site.

That is now in the past.

The Torah portion of Chayei Sarah will be read by thousands of Jews in Kiryat Arba this weekend, in a celebration reclaiming history, land, holy site and Jewish rights which had been robbed from Jews for generations.


Related First.One.Through articles:

It is Time to Insert “Jewish” into the Names of the Holy Sites

Joint Prayer: The Cave of the Patriarchs and the Temple Mount

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

Shabbat Hagadol at the Third Hurva Synagogue, 2010

The Cancer in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Squeezing Zionism

The Long History of Dictating Where Jews Can Live Continues

The New York Times will Keep on Telling You: Jews are not Native to Israel

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The Hebron Narratives: Is it the Presence of Jews or the Israeli Military

The divide in the narrative of the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities can be summarized in one city, and it’s not Jerusalem. It’s Hebron.

The Jewish Narrative

Jews look at the city of Hebron as the essence of their rights in the holy land. More than God’s promise of the land of Israel to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (including Genesis 13:15-17), Hebron represents the very first real estate transaction recorded in the Bible. In Genesis 23:12-20, Abraham purchased a cave to bury his wife Sarah. That purchase crystallized the promise of God in the action of man.

The founding fathers and mothers of Judaism are almost all buried in Hebron in the Tomb of the Jewish Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, making it the second holiest location for Jews. Their presence motivated Jews thousands of years ago to establish a large presence in the city and factored into King David’s decision to begin his rule there for the first seven years of his reign (Samuel II 2:1-11).

Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron
with building atop attributed to King Herod
Hebron’s long Jewish history and religious shrine kept Jews living and visiting the city. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews in Hebron had only a small community with a synagogue and school. But in 1929, Arab rioters killed 67 people when a false rumor was spread that the Jews were set to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The British, who were administering the Palestine Mandate at the time, concluded that there was no way to protect the Jews in the city and evacuated every Jew. It marked the true beginning of the modern war of Jews and Arabs living together in the Holy Land. No Jew would return to the city until after the 1967 defensive Six Day War, when the Jordanians lost the land that they had illegally siezed in 1949.

When the Jews returned to Hebron, they eliminated the centuries-old ban (established 1266) that the Muslims had placed on Jews entering the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs. They reestablished a small neighborhood in the city where they could live safely, protected by the Israeli army so that they would not be slaughtered again as they were in 1929.

As opposed to the Muslims (including Ottomans) and Arabs (Jordanians) who banned Jews from the holy site and city, respectively, the Israelis made accommodations for sharing the space. They partitioned the Cave so that both Muslims and Jews could pray at the site and sectioned a small part of the city where Jews could safely live.

The Israelis enforced coexistence with the Arabs and Muslims that had offered them no or limited ground for centuries.

The Arab Perspective

Arabs view themselves as the native population of Palestine. Their ancestors came to the region en masse in the 6th and 7th century as they spread Islam through the Middle East and North Africa. Their position as the dominant people in the Holy Land was secured at the end of the Crusades in the 13th century.

Over the next 700 years, various Muslim and Arab people would descend on the region, whether Egyptians, Syrians or Ottomans. The common religion made the nature of the sovereign less relevant to the Muslim Arabs. People from places that would later become Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would come and go to Palestine and to Hebron. The fluidity of backgrounds in a world that had not been so fixed with nationality as today was natural; Palestine was after all the gateway to Egypt and Africa from Europe and Asia for trade.

Hebron’s Muslims mostly tolerated (by 18th century norms but not today’s) the small Jewish community. It didn’t give them rights to visit or pray at Islamic holy shrines like the Ibrahimi Mosque, as they called the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs, but they didn’t have them banned from the city or region.

That changed at the end of World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire, as the world powers decided to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine through the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the subsequent elaboration of Jewish rights in the 1920 San Remo Agreement and the 1922 Mandate of Palestine. The Muslim Arabs who had seen a spike in Jewish emigration to Palestine over the prior hundred years now had a new fear and concern: the global powers were taking the sovereignty of Palestine away from Muslims and handing it to the Jews. And this, without the consultation or endorsement of the local Muslim Arabs.

The small minority of Jews was no longer a curiosity to be tolerated, but a group that was poised to assume control to be defeated.

When rumors came in 1929 about the Jewish attack on the third most holy site of Islam in Jerusalem, it was easily believed. The British had assumed their mandate just five years earlier and the Jews started to arrive in Palestine by the thousands. It was natural for the Palestinian Arabs to assume that the Jews were readying a takeover of their holy locations in Jerusalem and Hebron. The war was on.

When the Jews came back to Hebron in 1967, they didn’t just return as civilians, but with an army. They set a model for sharing the Ibrahmi Mosque that the Arabs tolerate, but in a format that Muslims fear that Israelis will try to replicate at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem.

It has now been decades that the Arabs of Hebron live under Israeli occupation, a reminder of their defeat in 1967 and of how their land and culture had been taken away from them. Every Israeli soldier that they see is there to inspect and check and validate their presence. But the Arab residents wonder why they need these Jewish interlopers to validate Arab presence in Hebron. They have been there for centuries.

The Conflicting Narratives

Whether one views one or both of these narratives as valid, the dichotomy of the root of the problem is very different. The Jews believe they have a natural right to live in the city as their ancestors had for thousands of years. The Israeli military is there to ensure the peace.

Yet for the Palestinian Arabs, the Israeli military is the core of the problem. They do not want to live under Jewish rule, neither as citizens of a Jewish State nor by an occupying army.

The Jews contend that the British action in 1929 did as much damage as the Palestinian Arab murderers. In the face of a heinous massacre of Jews, the response of the British Administrators was not to punish the Arabs and protect the Jews, but to ban the Jews from the city. That action taught the Arabs that violence pays. The terrorist group Hamas continued to make the point, having made Israel abandon Gaza in 2005.

The Palestinian Arabs make no apologies for any of their statements or actions: this is Arab land and home to Islamic shrines. The Israelis may say they are promoting coexistence, but they are doing so on stolen land. How noble is it to steal someone’s home and then offer to share it?!

Israelis view the Arab attitude as deeply problematic: their arguments are not localized to Hebron, but are the same throughout the land. The Palestinian Arabs reject the basic presence of a Jewish State in the land in any configuration. Why abandon Hebron, when the sentiment is the same for Haifa?

While moderate Arabs may indeed hold that view, they are willing to accept the de facto existence of millions of Jews within the 1967 borders. They realize that the Jews are not going anywhere any time soon.

So what makes a Hebron narrative different than a Haifa narrative or a Jerusalem narrative or a Jericho narrative? How and why is it unique in depicting the problems that people have in talking about the Israeli-Arab conflict?

Why Hebron?

Most of the world has accepted the reality and legitimacy of Israel and its borders within the 1949 Armistice Lines (the 1967 borders). Cities like Haifa, Tel Aviv and Nazareth are only contentious among the most rabidly anti-Zionist zealots who shout “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The narrative that questions Haifa is one to be easily and readily dismissed as coming from the lunatic fringe.

Jerusalem is considered the most contentious topic for a variety of reasons ranging from the holiness ascribed to the city, its designation as a capital by the competing parties, and the fact that both populations – Jews and Arabs – live in the city in great numbers. Reasonable people can have completely different viewpoints on the best path forward.

And then there is Hebron. Compared to other major West Bank cities like Jericho, Nablus or Jenin, it is a city with a handful of Jews (as opposed to none), and home to a venerated site for Jews on par with Medina for Muslims, while most other cities have much more minor Jewish holy sites. As such, it is divided between areas under Palestinian Authority and Israeli control.

Modern division of Hebron into area under PA and Israeli control
The ongoing and persistent presence of Jews in Hebron has made it a flashpoint for an all-or-none possession of control and access for nearly 90 years. It was in Hebron that the world bodies took the first steps in modern times to evict all of the Jews, presumably for their own good. The 1929 action was an abrogation of the Mandate that the British were handed that “No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief,” (Article 15).

Within a decade, the British would follow up their action with the 1937 Peel Commission and the 1939 White Paper, actions which would bar Jews from living in most of Palestine and prevent hundreds of thousands of Jews from moving to Palestine.

Hebron set the stage that coexistence was impossible; parallel existence was required.

But the counter-argument stands in reality in the State of Israel. In Israel, Arabs have full rights and account for over 20% of the population. Israel granted every non-Jew Israeli citizenship when it declared statehood in 1948, and offers any Arab in Jerusalem citizenship, if they so desire.

In EGL, east of the Green Line/ the West Bank, the desire for co-existence is seemingly non-existent. The Palestinian Authority has laws calling for the death sentence for any Arab that sells land to a Jew. The leader of the Palestinian Authority pledged that a future Palestinian state will not see the presence of a single Israeli (read Jew). Some Palestinian Universities even ban Jews from stepping foot on campus.

So today, most Israelis that live in EGL/West Bank are in towns that almost exclusively Jewish. The exception is Hebron, where just 700 Jews live among 250,000 Arabs. (Another 6,000 Jews live in adjoining Kiryat Arba).

It is Hebron that is the current test for coexistence for the Arab community. Can they accept and welcome the Jews in their midst? Could Israel withdraw its protective force from the small Jewish community of Hebron and not see them slaughtered?

Some Muslims that claim to be moderates say that Jews lived in Arab countries for centuries before the establishment of Israel. Will they defend and protect the Jews of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, or is the existence of Israel next door still too much of an insult for them to endure, and therefore cannot coexist with Jewish neighbors?

The narratives of Jew and Arab in the Holy Land and the pathway to either coexistence or divorce is encapsulated in the city of Hebron.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Israeli Peace Process versus the Palestinian Divorce Proceedings

Squeezing Zionism

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

It is Time to Insert “Jewish” into the Names of the Holy Sites

The Long History of Dictating Where Jews Can Live Continues

The Palestinian’s Three Denials

The Cancer in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Joint Prayer: The Cave of the Patriarchs and the Temple Mount

Dignity for Israel: Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

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The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

One of the most famous cartographers in the world was Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598). Appointed as cartographer to King Phillip II of Spain, the religious Christian Flemish cartographer is credited with creating the first world atlas called “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” or “Theatre of the World.” The atlas was originally printed in 1570 and became one of the most popular books of its time and resulted in a few printings. In total, there were 178 plates amounting to approximately 730,000 printed copies of the various maps.

In addition to the maps printed in the atlas, Ortelius also produced “Parergon” maps of interesting places. These “classical” maps were produced by Ortelius himself, as opposed to some maps in “Theatrum” which were adopted from other cartographers. The 56 such plates produced roughly 143,000 printed maps.

One of the maps of the Parergon was called “Abrahami Patriarchae” which chronicled the life of the biblical patriarch Abraham. The first map was printed between 1590 and 1595 (975 copies made) with a second plate produced 1592-1624 (2925 copies made). The map shows the journey and life of Abraham with an inset map of his journey from Ur to Canaan, as well as 22 medallions of significant life events. The map highlights Ortelius’s gift as cartographer, artist and historian.

Ortelius
Abrahami Patriarchae Peregrinatio et vitae, 1592

Some notable medallions in the map are detailed below which underscore the belief that God gave Jews the holy land:

  • Medallion 6. Genesis 13: 14-15 “The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.”
  • Medallion 10. Genesis 15: 17-21 “17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
  • Medallion 12. Genesis 17:3-8 “Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.
  • Medallion 18. Genesis 21: 27-31 (ownership of Beersheba) “27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?” 30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.” 31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.
  • Medallion 20. Genesis 23: 19-20 (ownership of Hebron) 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.”

This map was made by a religious Christian, not a Jew. Many evangelical Christians and others that believe in the Old Testament firmly hold that while the holy land may be holy to all of the monotheistic faiths, the land itself is God’s gift to Jews. Indeed, God is the original Zionist.

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

A Review of Five Sacred Sites

The United Nations is inconsistent regarding its position on the “character”, “access” and “rights” of holy sites in the Holy Land across the Green Line.

In 2010, UNESCO published a paper highly critical of Israel regarding its treatment of two holy places in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank: the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem. The statements were a complete inversion of the truth:

  • “Since Israel’s occupation, the Israeli Government has attempted to highlight the Jewish character of archaeological and heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian territory, while erasing or neglecting the universal character of these heritage sites and denying access to all people of faith.
  • “As part of the illegal settlement enterprise, the Israeli authorities also exploit Palestinian heritage sites for financial and political gains. Under the Netanyahu administration, Israel has publicly begun to use these sacred and universal sites to provoke unnecessary religious conflict by promoting control and access on the exclusive basis of one faith while denying the rights and views of other faiths.”          UNESCO PARIS, 19 March 2010

TOMB OF THE PATRIARCHS (HEBRON)

As a point of reference (as detailed in the FirstOneThrough article) almost all of the Jewish forefathers and foremothers are buried at the tomb. As such, it is the second holiest site in Judaism (after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). Biblical characters Ishmael and Esav (forefathers of the Arabs) are not attributed to this burial site.

The tomb was a destination for Jewish pilgrims since its purchase by Abraham 3700 years ago, and for the following 2900 years. Roughly 800 years ago, Muslims took over Hebron and converted the tomb into a mosque. The Muslims forbade Jews from entering the area, and even approaching beyond the seventh step of the platform. That changed when the Israelis took over the site after the Jordanians and Palestinians attacked Israel and lost the West Bank in 1967.

  • It was the Muslims that “erased and neglected the universal character” of the site
  • It was the Muslims that ”denied access to all people of faith
  • And It was the Jews that opened the Tomb for both Muslim and Jewish prayer

THE TOMB OF RACHEL (BETHLEHEM)

As the burial site of one of Judaism’s foremothers, the tomb of Rachel is considered the third holiest site in Judaism (similar to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Muslims).

The Crusaders built a small covering for the gravesite in the 1200s and around 1517, the Ottomans denied non-Muslim prayer when they took over control of Bethlehem. In 1615, Mohammed, Pasha of Jerusalem transferred exclusive use of the tomb to Jews, but the site fell into disrepair. In 1841, Jewish philanthropist and traveler, Sir Moses Montefiore was given the keys to the tomb and permission to build a larger structure for pilgrims.

Over the years, the area around the tomb became more densely populated. As Bethlehem was only 5 kilometers south of Jerusalem, the growth of both cities created a greater metropolitan area. The United Nations 1947 partition plan recommended that this Greater Jerusalem / Greater Bethlehem area become a single “Holy Basin” under international control, being neither Israeli nor Palestinian. While accepted by the Israelis, the Palestinians rejected the proposal.

In 1948, five Arab armies attacked Israel and Jordan illegally annexed Judea and Samaria, including Bethlehem. In 1954, the Jordanians gave Palestinian Arabs citizenship but specifically excluded citizenship for any Jews. After 333 years, the third holiest site of Judaism became off-limits to all Israelis.

Israelis took control of the area after the defeat of the Jordanians (and Palestinians) in 1967, and opened the tomb to Jewish worship once again.

In 1995, as part of the Oslo Agreements, Israel handed over control of half of the “Holy Basin” – Bethlehem – to the Palestinian Authority, under the condition that Jews be able to freely access and pray at the tomb. With that handover, the Tomb of Rachel fell under Palestinian Authority.

During the Second Intifada in 2002, with almost daily killings of Jews by Arabs, the Israeli government built a security barrier through parts of the West Bank. In 2005, a wall was built around the Tomb of Rachel to protect it from Arab assault.

  • The site is not even considered sacred to Islam, yet for almost 100 years, Muslims denied the rights of Jews to pray at the tomb
  • It was Ottomans of centuries ago who gave the Tomb of Rachel back to Jews
  • Modern Jordanians and Palestinians denied citizenship and access to the tomb for Jews
  • It was Israel that reopened access and rights for Jews at the tomb
  • It was Israel that agreed to give control of the “Holy Basin” to the U.N. in 1947
  • It was Israel that agreed to compromise and divided half of the “Holy Basin”, handing control of the city to the Palestinians in 1995

There are other examples of the United Nations condemning Israel for opening up access to holy sites, while ignoring the denial of access and destruction that Arabs caused to holy places.

JOSEPH’S TOMB (NABLUS/SHECHEM)

The Tomb of Joseph, the biblical son of Jacob and Rachel, is found in Nablus (Shechem). After the 1967 war, Israel gained access to the site once more and built a small seminary nearby in the 1980s.

Israel handed control of Nablus to the Palestinians in 1995, but retained control of Joseph’s Tomb. However, during the Intifada in October 2000, Palestinians ransacked the tomb and killed an Israeli soldier and Rabbi Hillel Lieberman who came to protect the site. His body was found in a ditch riddled with bullets.

Israel agreed to give temporary control of the tomb to the Palestinians to quiet the situation and to allow the Palestinians to repair the tomb. However, the site was set on fire and further ransacked. Later, the Associated Press reported that “the dome of the tomb was painted green and bulldozers were seen clearing the surrounding area,” as the Palestinian Arabs sought to transform the biblical Joseph’s resting place into a Moslem holy site.

Israeli president Shimon Peres remarked that the “Palestinians made a terrible mistake in Joseph’s Tomb. They pulled the rug out from under their feet regarding their demand for control of the holy places, by showing that they don’t know how to preserve and respect them.”

  • It was Arabs that vandalized a Jewish site
  • It was Palestinians that sought to change the character of Joseph’s tomb
  • It was Israel that handed temporary control of the site to Palestinians to try to quell violence

What was the United Nations response to ransacking of a Jewish holy place? Of attempting to “change the character” of the Jewish site? Silence. No comment nor condemnation.

What was the UN response to a visit to the Temple Mount by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two weeks earlier? Condemnation.

  • Deplores the provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000”

The UN Secretary General condemned the Israeli prime minister for exercising his “right” for “accessing” Judaism’s holiest site during normal visiting hours.

THE HURVA SYNAGOGUE (JERUSALEM)

Jews began construction of a significant synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1694 called the Hurva Synagogue which was destroyed by Muslims in 1721. Groundbreaking for rebuilding the shul happened in 1855, and it was rededicated on completion in 1864.

In 1949, the Jordanian army attacked the Jews in Jerusalem and blew up the Hurva Synagogue and 57 other synagogues in the Old City. They expelled the 2000 Jewish residents and forbade them from returning.

After the Jordanians (and Palestinians) attacked Israel again in 1967, Jews retook the Old City but did not seek to rebuild the Hurva right away. In 2010, Israel finally rebuilt and reopened the synagogue before the Passover holiday. There was condemnation from around the world.

Fatah official Khatem Abd al-Khader called the reopening a “provocation” and warned that Israel “was playing with fire”. Khaled Meshaal of Hamas said the opening was a “declaration of war” and “a falsification of history and Jerusalem’s religious and historic monuments.” The Jordanian government (that intentionally blew up the synagogue) “categorically rejects the rededication of Hurva Synagogue.

These reactions were about a synagogue that had absolutely no connection to Islam.

  • Arabs destroyed the synagogue
  • The Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs denied access to the Old City and site
  • Palestinians threatened violence over rebuilding a synagogue they destroyed
  • Palestinian leadership incited a riot by falsely stating that Jews were attempting to destroy the Al Aqsa mosque

How did the United Nations respond to the reopening of the Hurva Synagogue?

  • Ban Ki Moon March 2010: “I have spoken out and have been diplomatically active whenever other provocations have taken place – including the decisions on holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem, actions in places like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah and tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

THE TEMPLE MOUNT (JERUSALEM)

The first Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon around the year 954BCE. At that time, there was no large platform that we know of today. That Temple was destroyed around the year 586BCE. A second Temple was built around 515BCE and destroyed in 70CE.

Before the Second Temple was destroyed, King Herod did major renovations in Jerusalem, including extending and building a large platform on which the Second Temple sat (from 19BCE until 63CE). Today’s “Western Wall” or “Wailing Wall” is the western retaining wall of that platform extension. It is also the area where Muslims built the Al Aqsa mosque in 705CE. That original mosque was destroyed several times, and the silver domed mosque of Al Aqsa that sits on the southern-most edge of the Temple Mount that we see today, was completed in 1033CE.

Christian crusaders came to Jerusalem in 1099, slaughtered the Jewish and Muslim inhabitants and took over the Temple Mount. Crusaders and Muslims fought over control of Jerusalem on-and-off through the year 1260, with the Muslims ultimately prevailing.

With the Muslim victory, Jews began to move back to Jerusalem, and the first new permanent synagogue in Jerusalem was set up by Nachmanides (the Ramban) in 1267. Over the next centuries, several noted rabbis stated that it was the custom of Jews in Jerusalem to ascend the Temple Mount and pray there, including Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1316) and Rabbi David ben Shlomo Ibn Zimra, (known as the Radbaz, 1479–1573), the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

However, in 1550, Ottoman leader Suleiman I set aside the Western Wall area as a designated area for the Jews to pray. It would appear that from this date until 1949, non-Muslims could have access but were effectively barred from praying on the Temple Mount.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the local Arab population became very anxious about future control of the land, especially in light of the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 British Mandate which specifically described ensuring a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Every “normal” action of prayer at the Western Wall was viewed by the Arabs as a change to the status quo, and as such, a “provocation” in which “Zionists” were taking over.

  • In 1925, a new prohibition against bringing chairs or benches to the Western Wall (in response to bringing chairs for the elderly and infirm)
  • In 1928, a new prohibition of erecting a screen (mechitza) between men and women for prayer (in response to putting one up on Yom Kippur) at the Western Wall

In 1929, Arabs rioted at the Western Wall, first burning prayer books and later calling for Jihad as they rampaged through the city killing dozens of Jews. They felt that Islamic authority at the Western Wall was being called into question as an initial step to the takeover of the Temple Mount.

In 1948, the Arab armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attacked Israel. At war’s end the following year, the city of Jerusalem became divided with the Jordanians occupying the Old City including the Temple Mount. After the Jordanians evicted all of the Jewish inhabitants, they banned any Jew from coming into the Old City and visiting the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

During that war, in December 1948, the United Nations Resolution 194 again called for the “Holy Basin” to be under international jurisdiction and that all holy sites should be given free access, with a carve-out for historical practices of discrimination:

  • Resolves that the Holy Places – including Nazareth – religious buildings and sites in Palestine should be protected and free access to them assured, in accordance with existing rights and historical practice”
  • Resolves that, in view of its association with three world religions, the Jerusalem area, including the present municipality of Jerusalem plus the surrounding villages and towns, the most eastern of which shall be Abu Dis; the most southern, Bethlehem; the most western, Ein Karim (including also the built-up area of Motsa); and the most northern, Shu’fat, should be accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control”

In 1967, in response to a preemptive Israeli attack on Egypt and Syria, Jordanian (and Palestinian) forces attacked Israel. The Israelis took the Old City of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, but handed administrative control of the Mount to the Jordanian Waqf. The plaza in front of the Western Wall was expanded to enable thousands of Jews to pray at the site. Israel enshrined the protections of Holy Places in its Basic Laws in June 1967:

  • The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.”
  • “Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.”

Israel opened up the Temple Mount for non-Muslim visitors during specified visiting hours. However, non-Muslims were still prohibited from praying on the Mount according to the wishes of the Jordanian Waqf.

Many Israelis were not happy with maintaining the discriminatory policy and lobbied the Israeli government to make changes. One such activist, Yehuda Glick, was shot repeatedly by two Palestinians for those efforts in October 2014.

In response to the shooting of Glick and the killing of the two Palestinian Arabs who shot him, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon discussed his displeasure with Israelis on the Temple Mount:

  • As you mentioned this holy site in Jerusalem and as I also said this morning, I am deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop.”
  • On November 24, 2014: “Incitement and provocative acts related to the holy sites are fanning the flames of conflict far beyond the holy city.”

While the United Nations claims to care about keeping the universal access and rights to people of all faiths, it condemns the only party – Israel – which practices those values and even enshrines those values into the Basic Laws of the country.  Further, the U.N. ignores the actions of the Arabs which deliberately have erased the Jewish character and rights of Jews to pray at their holiest sites.

For 800 years, from the Arab conquest of Jerusalem and the introduction of Islam to the Holy Land until 1550, Islamic and Jewish prayer both occurred on the Temple Mount.

It is not only time for there to be open access and rights for Jews, but it is time for the United Nations to acknowledge the party that provides access and rights, and the parties that do not.


Sources:

UNESCO claim that Israel is Judaizing the Cave of the Patriarchs and The Tomb of Rachel (2010). http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/8F8CBDCA74D7D20385257721007157CF

FirstOneThrough article on Tomb of Patriarchs: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/joint-prayer-the-cave-of-the-patriarchs-and-the-temple-mount/

History of Rachel’s Tomb: http://www.rachelstomb.org/capsulehistory.html

Bethlehem changing hands: http://www.jpost.com/Features/In-Thespotlight/This-Week-In-History-Bethlehem-changes-hands

Bethlehem history: http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Rachels_Tomb.htm

Article on Tomb of Rachel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/on-obamas-path-to-bethlehem-a-harshly-fortified-shrine/

Jordanian Nationality Law barring citizenship to Jews (Article 3): “The following shall be deemed to be Jordanian nationals:… Any person who, not being Jewish,…http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b4ea13.html

Jordan (and Palestinians attack Israel in 1967):

Tomb of Joseph: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/joetomb.html

Hillel Lieberman: http://www.shechem.org/elon-moreh/enghillel.html

Ascending to the Temple Mount: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CC4QFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hakirah.org%2FVol%252016%2520Loewenberg.pdf&ei=Ldd1VO_lIO_HsQSxxILoAg&usg=AFQjCNFI6ujLjX2fEw6kPd6QNgTqQoN57A&sig2=JhXKJuu8BPvY_Oint80UKA

1929 riots: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&ved=0CFMQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fisites.harvard.edu%2Ffs%2Fdocs%2Ficb.topic1232564.files%2FSela_1929.pdf&ei=ud11VL2XLKaMsQS34ILIBw&usg=AFQjCNFrq28tbKf1Uns0HD-GAFYPBo7vQg&sig2=aUGriieF5AxIpKxwTtbApQ

UN Resolution 194: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/C758572B78D1CD0085256BCF0077E51A

Israel Law on Protection of Holy Places (1967): http://www.bu.edu/mzank/Jerusalem/tx/lawofholyplaces1967.htm

Yehuda Glick shooting: http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Report-Suspect-in-right-wing-activist-Yehuda-Glicks-shooting-killed-by-police-380238

UN Security Council Resolution 1322 condemning Sharon visit to the Temple Mount: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/22F8A95E5C0579AF052569720007921E

UNESCO 2013: http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/diplomania/israel-thwarts-unesco-resolution-condemning-its-temple-mount-activities.premium-1.470609

Ban Ki Moon on Temple Mount: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/13/un-general-secretary-ban-ki-moon-criticises-israel-settlement-building

http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/statments_full.asp?statID=2444#.VHR3U_8tCUk

http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/statments_full.asp?statID=767#.VHR4X_8tCUk

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Joint Prayer: The Cave of the Patriarchs and the Temple Mount

This weekend, thousands of Jews from around Israel and other parts of the world came to the Cave of the Patriarchs in the city of Hebron. The annual tradition of visiting the city on this weekend goes back many years, as it coincides with the reading in the Torah of Abraham buying land to bury his wife Sarah, the “first mother” of the Jewish people.

The Cave of the Patriarchs is considered the burial place of almost all of the “founding fathers and mothers” of Judaism 3700 years ago: Abraham; Isaac; Jacob; Sarah; Rebecca and Leah. As such, it is considered the second most holy site in Judaism (on par with Medina for Muslims).

Roughly 2,000 years ago, a monumental structure was built on top of the cave, attributed to the Jewish King Herod. Over the following centuries, many people conquered the city of Hebron. About 800 years ago, the Muslim Mamlukes took over the city and declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs to be a mosque and forbade Jews from coming beyond the seventh step of the structure.

caveofpatriarchs
The Cave of Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron

When the Ottomans ruled Hebron from 1517 to 1917, there was relative peace between the Arabs and Jews in the city (even though the Jews were forbidden from entering their holy site). However, in 1929, Arabs rioted against their Jewish neighbors after incitement from the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem. During those few days in August, 67 Jews were killed, hundreds were injured, and the British (who then controlled the mandate of Palestine) forced all of the Jews to leave their city.

In 1967, in response to the Jordanian (and Palestinian) attack on Israel, Israel captured Judea and Samaria, including the city of Hebron. When Israel took control of their holy site, it opened the shrine for prayer for both Jews and Muslims. Today, there are discreet times set aside for each religion to use the site for prayer.


In 2014, the discussion about opening the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – Judaism’s holiest site – to non-Muslim prayer has again been raised due to the shooting of Jewish activist Yehuda Glick who fought for that basic right. The acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas was outraged at the suggestion and described such approach as amounting to a “religious war“, as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on the Temple Mount, is Islam’s third holiest site. While Glick and many other activists never suggested praying at or near the mosque, but on other parts of the 35 acre platform, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless agreed to keep the status quo ban on Jewish prayer on the mount.

On the tenth anniversary of Yaser Arafat’s (fungus be upon him) death, Abbas stated: “The leaders of Israel are making a grave mistake by thinking that history can move backward and that they could impose facts on the ground by dividing the Aksa Mosque in time and space, as they did with the Ibrahimi Mosque [Cave of the Patriarchs] in Hebron.

In Hebron, Israeli action at the Cave of the Patriarchs opened the way for both Muslims and Jews to share holy sites in the holy land. The Temple Mount could similarly become a place of tolerance and prayer.

 


Sources:

Pilgrimage to Hebron: http://unitedwithisrael.org/thousands-flocked-to-hebron/

Cave of Patriarchs: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/machpelah.html

1929 Hebron massacre: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hebron29.html

Jordanian and Palestinian 1967 attack on Israel (from King of Jordan’s site): http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/his_periods3.html

Abbas claim of religious war: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/11/abbas-israel-jerusalem-holy-site

Palestinian Authority TV on call to “purify” Jerusalem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1gIetnpxH0

Abbas against any change in allowing Jews on Temple Mount: http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Jailed-Barghouti-to-Palestinians-Continue-armed-resistance-against-Israel-381454

FirstOneThrough article on tolerance at the Temple: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/tolerance-at-the-temple/