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Is the Machpela in danger? Or is it just anti-Israel hype?

The PA is attempting to use UNESCO to culturally appropriate the Tomb of Machpela.

21.6.17, 21:03
(PHOTO: Thousands of Muslims pray at the Tomb of Machpela in Hebron for Ramadan on June 2, 2017. Israel and the PA worked together to coordinate the event.)
 
The Palestinian Authority's attempt to designate the Tomb of Machpela as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site” in danger could not be further from the truth.
 
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will be holding a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland, from July 2-12 and the Palestinian Authority is pushing for all Jewish connection to the site to be severed in favor of declaring it a Palestinian heritage site.
 
However Israel has created an equitable sharing mechanism that has worked for decades in which the Muslim Waqf and the Israeli government each share upkeep and access to the 2,000-year-old structure.
 
Ever since its liberation in the Six Day War of 1967, the Tomb of Machpela has been open for people of all faiths. Both synagogue services and mosque prayers take place in the building as the Israeli government allows access to both populations.
 
However, this was not always the case. In 1267, the Mamelukes ended the age old custom of Jewish prayers at the Tomb of Machpela when they declared the holy site off limits to all non-Muslims. For the next 700 years, Jews were restricted to the seventh step of the eastern staircase. Anyone who dared set foot beyond the seventh step was arrested or worse.
 
This past month has been the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and despite terrorist attacks in Israel and around the world, Israeli authorities have allowed massive Muslim prayer gatherings at the Tomb of Machpela in Hebron as it does every year. The sharing arrangement allows for exclusive access to the Tomb of Machpela complex 10 days out of the year for Jewish worship and 10 days out of the year for Islamic worship.
 
These ten days correspond to every Friday in the month of Ramadan and other special days such as Laylat al Qadr (Night of Power), Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan) Lailat al Mi'raj (Mohammad's ascension to heaven), Mawlid al-Nabi (birthday of Mohammed), Eid al Adha and others days.
 
During these days, Muslims have exclusive access to the complex and Jewish prayer services are held outside at the Seventh Step garden. All Jewish items such as Hebrew signs, Torah scrolls, etc are removed from the building. IDF soldiers are on hand, working together with Muslim authorities in ensure orderly access to the site.
 
 
In past years, mezuzuot and other Jewish symbols that are permanent fixtures have been destroyed during Ramadan prayers. Last year, a mezuzah dedicated in memory of a terrorist victim was ripped off.
 
According to Maan News the agency affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, 10,000 Muslims attended prayer services on the first Friday of Ramadan on June 2nd.
 
"Dozens of Palestinian Red Crescent volunteers were stationed throughout the streets and gates near the mosque in order to facilitate Palestinians crossing through the Israeli military checkpoints, while Jawdat al-Muhtaseb, coordinator for Red Crescent volunteers, noted that 130 Palestinians volunteered with the group in order to facilitate movement and assist elderly worshipers and those with special needs," the agency stated.
 
Throughout the year, Muslims from all over the world including the United Kingdom, Turkey and other Islamic countries visit the Tomb of Machpela in Hebron.
 
The Tomb of Machpela is divided into Jewish and Muslim sections and for the most part, each population is not allowed access to the other side. The Jewish section includes the memorial cenotaphs of Sarah, Jacob and Leah. The Muslim section comprises the largest area of the complex, the Hall of Isaac and Rebecca, and the entranceway down into the actual underground caves. The room containing the Tomb of Abraham has a grated window on either side of both the Jewish and Muslim sections.
 
Like the Old City of Jerusalem and other areas, only under Israeli sovereignty has freedom of worship been available to all faiths. Because Israel has regulated a well maintained system of access, violent incidents at the complex have been almost non-existent for the past 20 years.
 
Hebron is divided into H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H controlled by Israel. Israeli civilians are allowed access to only 3% of the city. H1 Hebron is the largest, most populated, and most prosperous city in the Palestinian Authority with numerous factories and business, a football stadium, and universities, colleges and hospitals.
 
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama HaCohen has responded to the accusations stating, “This is a new front in the war over the holy places that the Palestinians are trying to ignite as part of their propaganda campaign against Israel and the history of the Jewish people. This is a clear continuation of the attacks and hallucinatory outrageous votes in UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The Palestinian religious leaders have publicly acknowledged Israeli respect for freedom of worship for all and expressed appreciation for the sensitivity shown by the Israeli authorities in responding to Palestinian special requests.”
 
The list of World Heritage Sites in danger includes rain-forests and parks where wildlife and natural resources are threatened. The inclusion of the Tomb of Machpela which enjoys regular maintenance in comparison to truly endangered sites is unfair. A full list is available here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/danger/
 
The UN Human Rights Committee's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee recognizes native burial grounds as an example of proof of ancestral ties.
 
"The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects rights that are important to indigenous peoples, such as the right to self-determination and the rights of persons belonging to minorities to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion or to use their own language…  In one decision relating to ancestral burial grounds, it interpreted other rights in the Covenant—namely the right to family—as understood by the society in question, stating that “cultural traditions should be taken into account when defining the term ‘family’ in a specific situation”.17 As a result, “family” was interpreted to include the relationship between the indigenous complainants and their ancestral burial grounds.” Source: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/fs9Rev.2.pdf
 
The Jewish Connection to Hebron
 
The towering Tomb of Machpela complex is the central attraction of Hebron and its Jewish roots goes back to the Early Bronze era, 3,800 years ago.
 
In the Book of Genesis where Abraham and Sarah, the founders of Monotheism, made Hebron their home. After Sarah’s passing away, the Bible details Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpela as a special burial site for his beloved wife. The rest of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs are buried there as well, with the exception of Rachel who passed away on the road to Bethlehem. At the end of the Book of Genesis, as Jacob lies dying in Egypt, he instructs his twelve sons to have him buried back home in Hebron with his parents and grandparents.
 
The Biblical connection to the site continues with the story of Joshua and Caleb who travel to Hebron as part of the twelve scouts. Jewish traditions teaches that Caleb took the time to pray at the Cave of the Founding Fathers and Mothers.
 
The story of the Maccabees took place in the Hebron Hills region and some researchers believe that today's Tomb of Machpela complex is built atop an ancient Hasmonean building.
 
The great historian Josephus records the construction of monumental structure atop the tombs of the of Machpela by the Jewish king, and master builder, Herod around the year 30 BCE. The site’s Herodian masonry is the same as that of the Western Wall, with its indented borders around the blocks.
 
Many famous Jewish figures throughout history have visited Hebron. In 1165 Moshe Ben Maimon, known as  the Rambam, visited the Land of Israel and wrote: "And on the first day of the week, the ninth day of the month of MarCheshvan, I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the graves of my forefathers in the Cave of Machpela."
 
In 1099, the Crusaders entered the city. It is they who added the vaulted ceilings of the Isaac Hall, and renamed the Cave of Machpela to Saint Abram D’Hebron.
 
In 1267, the Mamelukes, a military caste in Egypt made up of former slaves, captured Hebron and the Machpela, renamed the Mosque of Ibrahim, and banned all non-Muslims from entering the building and visiting the underground caves. Jews were restricted to the seventh step of a staircase that let to one of the entrances. That ban lasted for 700 years.
 
Despite the ban, Jews held prayer services outside the Tomb of Machpela regularly for generations. Great Jewish leaders from abroad traveled to visit the site such as the philanthropist Moses Montefiore in the 1820s.
 
The city experienced a Jewish revival with the arrival of the exiles from the Spanish Inquisition. Sites such as the Avraham Avinu synagogue in Hebron, built in 1540 still stand today and Torah scrolls that date back hundreds of years are in use by local Jews.
 
In 1929 an Arab mob filled with jihadist zeal turned on their neighbors and slaughtered 67 unarmed Jewish civilians, and injured many more. The survivors were rounded up by the British Mandate authorities and deported to Jerusalem. These actions ended what was arguably the oldest Jewish community in the world.
 
It was not until the dramatic Six Day War of 1967 that Jews were able to return to their roots. Only weeks later a wedding of six couples was held outside the complex.
 
Only under Israeli sovereignty has this site had free access to people of all faiths. The Tomb of Machpela is the oldest still standing, still functioning structure from its era, being used for the same purpose for which it was built, and a house of prayer to give tribute to the founders of the Abrahamic faiths.
 
Today over 700,000 people visit the site every year and in 2017 the Egged bus company has added 3 new lines meeting demand for greater access to the city including a new direct line to the Tomb of Machpela. This year saw the spectacular 50th anniversary celebration which included Members of Knesset from a variety of different parties and Israeli pop stars such as Rami Kleinstein. The annual Succot and Passover festivals attract tens of thousands of visitors from Israel and around the world each year.
 
 
 
LINKS:
 
 
To visit Hebron:
 
United States contact info:
http://www.hebronfund.org/
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

Israeli contact info:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
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