After grabbing the Palestinian land Israel is claiming their heritage too
Athough it won’t say so, the recent decision by UNESCO to define two mosques in the occupied territories as Palestinian is a reply to Israel that earlier this year registered the mosques — the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque near Bethlehem, and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron — as its national heritage sites. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the sites would be renovated “in order to reconnect Israelis to their history” even though the two mosques are located in the heart of Palestinian population centers where no significant Jewish population exists.
The Ibrahimi Mosque is where Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish terrorist and reserve soldier in the Israeli Army, sprayed Muslim worshipers with a machinegun in 1994, killing at least 29 worshipers and injuring 150 others. Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque, which is off limits to Muslims and is located at the northern tip of Bethlehem, has been completely annexed to Israel and is separated from the rest of the Arab city by the gigantic barrier Israel has built for the purpose of annexing to Israel large chunks of the West Bank.
When Netanyahu announced the original plan, the two mosques were not included. However, after Jewish settlers and their allies in the government exerted pressure on the premier, he decided to add the two sites to the original plan.
Back then, the UN had censured Israel for including the two mosques in its planned Jewish heritage trail, reminding Israel that the two sites are located in the West Bank. Today, UNESCO went one step further than reminding. The mosques, it determined, are Palestinian.
Netanyahu has condemned the UNESCO decision as absurd, an attempt to detach the people of Israel from their heritage. Yet it is Israel, which seeks to consecrate its fait accompli of Palestinian land and history by laying false historical claims. Israelis occupied the land and claimed territorial rights, and now they are hijacking the history and heritage of Palestinians, claiming it is theirs. This is, like Jewish settlement expansion, another land grab that goes against international law and revokes the Palestinians’ right to their cultural identity.
The two mosques have been exclusive Islamic houses of worship for hundreds of years, and in the case of Ibrahimi Mosque, over 1,000 years. Thus, the Israeli claim that they are Jewish sites is beyond the pale. They are located in the West Bank, territory the Palestinians want and need as part of their future state. And international law obliges the occupation authorities not to change the historical heritage of the occupied territories or change the identity of the land or alter its features.
UNESCO, the United Nations cultural watchdog and defender of endangered sites worldwide, is constantly being forced back into the Arab-Israeli conflict because of Israel claiming guardianship of numerous Arab sites in the occupied territories.
UNESCO has once again entered the fray because while it won’t say so, the mosques were being annexed as Israel attempts to establish historical grounds for its existence.