The United Nations has done it again. In an October 21 meeting, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a proposal initiated by Arab member states that declares Jewish historical sites “Palestinian.” In a 44-1 vote, with 12 abstentions, the UNESCO board called the Haram al-Ibrahm (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron and Bilal bin Rabah Mosque (Rachel’s Tomb) in Bethlehem “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories” and requested that Israel remove them from its list of national heritage sites. The one vote against came from the U.S.
Israel added Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs to its list of heritage sites earlier this year, and most news reports credit UNESCO’s statement as a response to that move. However, in making such a statement, UNESCO risks wholly discrediting itself by supporting a factually untrue claim.
“The attempt to disconnect between Israel and its heritage is absurd,” read a statement released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “If the locations in which the mothers and fathers of the Hebrew people: Abraham, Yitzhak, Sarah, Rivkah, Leah, and Rachel were buried 4,000 years ago are not part of Jewish heritage, then what is?”
Moreover, Rachel’s tomb wasn’t even considered a mosque by Palestinians until 2000 when its historical importance was “discovered.” Indeed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan surprised many just last March when he told the Saudi paper Al Wattan that al-Aqsa Mosque, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and Rachel’s Tomb “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”
Between 1984 and 2003, the United States refrained from participating in UNESCO because of a disparity between U.S. and UNESCO goals. Perhaps the U.S. should reconsider its involvement with an agency that strives to use its power to de-legitimize a U.S. ally and member of the international community.