The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted recently to officially declare Rachel's Tomb to be a mosque. UNESCO director Irena Bokova had previously stated “concern” at Israel's decision to treat the tomb as a heritage site.
The vote called for Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs – the burial site of the other Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs – to be removed from Israel's National Heritage list.
The Palestinian Authority has claimed that Rachel's Tomb is holy to Muslims as the site of a mosque called the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque. The PA demands control over both the tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron, as well as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
UNESCO appeared to support the PA demand for the Temple Mount as well, asking that Muslim officials be allowed to examine the Mughrabi Gate near the Western Wall (Kotel). Muslim leaders have accused Israel of attempting to damage the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount under the guise of repairs to the Mugrabi Gate. Israeli officials have warned that if the gate is not repaired, it could collapse, putting worshipers at the Western Wall at risk.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, Rabbi of the Western Wall, termed the decision “outrageous.”
“They have never said in the past that this was a Muslim holy site. The [UN] organization responsible for heritage has turned heritage into politics.” Israel should think carefully about whether or not to cooperate with UNESCO in the future, he said.
Israel's Foreign Ministry denounced the UNESCO ruling.
Tens of thousands of Jews recently visited Rachel's Tomb to mark the biblical matriarch's Yartzheit (anniversary of death). The tomb is located within Bethlehem city limits, but remained under Israeli control when the rest of Bethlehem was transferred to Palestinian Authority control.
Journalist Nadav Shragai, writing for Yisrael Hayom, noted that Muslims living in the land of Israel have historically referred to Rachel's Tomb as “Kubat Rahel,” the Arabic term for “Rachel's Tomb.” Under Ottoman rule, Rachel's Tomb was a Jewish site.
Only in 1996 did the PA begin to call the site the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, he said.
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