And then Avraham buried his wife Sara in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre — now Chevron — in the land of Canaan. Genesis 23:19 (The Israel Bible™)
UNESCO has passed several resolutions attacking the connection between Israel and the Jewish holy sites, but this week, the Executive Board passed two new resolutions aimed specifically at the Biblical matriarchs. One rabbi sees this as a continuation of the Biblical battle between Isaac and Ishmael and a closer look shows how this is nothing less than an after-the-fact attempt to block the Jews’ return from exile.
On Wednesday morning, the PX Commission composed of the 59 members of the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted resolutions 28 and 29, titled “Occupied Palestine.” The resolutions state that the Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron) and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are “an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian territory.” The resolutions were sponsored by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco.
The stated motive behind the resolutions was to encourage negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. UNESCO’s assistant director-general for external relations, Nicolas Kassianides, said at the meeting that the resolutions enhance “the spirit of constructive dialogue to enable us to reach a consensus.”
Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, a resident of Hebron and tour guide, stated that the real basis of the UNESCO move was not a political conflict but was, in essence, an “ongoing spiritual war between the Jews and the Arabs based in the Bible.”
“The battle is over the connection to Abraham as described in the Bible,” Rabbi Hochbaum told Breaking Israel News, citing a verse from Genesis.
But Hashem said to Avraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sara tells you, do as she says, for it is through Yitzchak that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.” Genesis 21:12-13
The rabbi noted that the battle was indirect, with Isaac and Ishmael never trading blows. In the same way, an indirect battle is being fought over who will be the continuation of the covenant, with UNESCO being the proxy champion fighting for the cause of Ishmael.
“The battle between Isaac and Ishmael is still taking place but with different names,” he asserted. “At this point, when we are just before the final geula (redemption), nations are choosing which side of this battle they are on.”
“The connection of the son to the father is through the mother. In the same way, the real connection to the land is through the mother; through Sarah and Rachel. The power of prayer and mercy is through the mothers. This is Ishmael, our half-brother, trying to wipe out the special connection to our fathers via our mothers.”
“It is through the virtue of the mothers that we returned to the land,” Rabbi Hochbaum continued. “They are trying to prevent our return, turn back the clocks by changing history and rewriting the Bible. Our power to stay in the land comes from the kedusha (holiness) we receive from these sites. They claim the battle is political but they themselves focus on these holy sites.”
Perhaps even more significant than the content of the UNESCO resolutions is the timing. Rabbi Hochbaum noted that they come just three weeks before Jews around the world read the weekly portion of the Torah describing Abraham’s purchase of the Machpelah, his first acquisition of land in the Promised Land.
Every year at that time, tens of thousands of Jews fill Hebron for the Sabbath to commemorate this purchase.
“If UNESCO wants these resolutions to actually stand, they will need to erase these verses from every bible in the world, and also burn it out of our memories,” Hochbaum explained. “For thousands of years, the evil forces in the world have tried to do this without success.”
The resolutions declaring Rachel’s Tomb – considered the third holiest site in Judaism – to be exclusively Muslim, came on the first day of Cheshvan, ten days before tradition teaches that the matriarch Rachel was born. Thousands of Jews arrive at the spot for celebrations organized by Mosdos Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb Institution), an organization run by Rabbi Moshe Kluger and his wife, Bluma. At the end of 2000, when the Second Intifada (in Arabic literally tremor or shaking) broke out, the tomb came under attack for 41 days. The Klugers established the organization to facilitate Jewish visitation to the site.
“If UNESCO thinks the connection between Israel and our mothers is dead, they should come to Hebron on Chayei Sara or Kever Rachel on Vayishlach and they’ll see tens of thousands of Jews coming to reconnect,” Rabbanit Kluger told Breaking Israel News. “Nothing could be more alive, more powerful, than Israel’s connection with our mothers.”
Thanks to their efforts and the love of the Jews for their matriarch, more than 100,000 Jews visit the site every year. In six weeks, Jews will read the section of the Torah describing Rachel’s death and burial outside of Bethlehem.
In Jewish tradition, Rachel, more than any of the other Biblical figures, is connected to the exile and return to Zion. It is, for this reason, she is not buried in Hebron with the other Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs. According to Midrash (homiletic teachings), Jacob foresaw that following the destruction of the First Temple the Jews would be exiled to Babylon. He buried his wife on the road to Babylon to enable them to cry out to her as they passed her grave, and be comforted. According to the Zohar, when the Messiah appears, he will lead the dispersed Jews back to the Land of Israel, along the road which passes Rachel’s grave.
Yishai Fleisher, the International Spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron, accused UNESCO of aiding the Palestinian Authority in perpetrating a crime of “national identity theft.”
“In the end, everyone, Jew, Christian and Muslim, will suffer,” Fleisher told Breaking Israel News. “If you compare the freedoms that Israeli control ensures with the PA-controlled areas, which are notoriously off-limits to Jews.”
Fleisher noted that on the Temple Mount, Christians and Jews are prohibited from praying.
“Even though the Palestinians claim the Tomb of Joseph in Shechem (Nablus) is holy to Islam, they have burned it down several times and no tourism is permitted due to Arab violence.”
Fleisher predicted that this religious conflict will continue so long as the PA incites violence by paying monthly stipends to terrorists.
In an editorial last year, Fleisher accused UNESCO of perpetrating fraud.
“Behind the facade of the protection of endangered sites, UNESCO has become a tool in a nefarious campaign to eradicate the evidence of Jewish indigeneity in the land of Israel and conversely malign the Jews as occupying colonialists,” Fleisher wrote in the Jerusalem Post. “The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has actually become the legitimate arm of the war against Israel, pushing a jihadist agenda while dressed in a sensible European suit and tie.”
Fleisher questioned the validity of the international institution in light of its injustices.
“We must send a clear signal: if the UN and UNESCO cannot uphold the values and principles necessary to protect world cultures and heritage sites, let its validity be brought to question – not that of the Jewish People.”
Fleisher is not alone in his negative assessment of UNESCO. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that, like the United States, Israel will be withdrawing from UNESCO at the end of the year.
“In withdrawing from UNESCO in 2017, Israel and the United States made a clear moral statement that UNESCO’s anti-semitism will no longer be tolerated,” Netanyahu said at the time, explaining Israel’s decision, “If and when UNESCO ends its bias against Israel, stops denying history and starts standing up for the truth, Israel will be honored to rejoin.”