(JNS.org) The Palestinian Authority (PA) is requesting that 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. 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.
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.”