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To Protect Our Heritage PAC Presents Petition to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO


June 6, 2011 Rabbi Victor Weissberg, Chairman, and Peggy Shapiro, Co-Chair of To Protect Our Heritage Pac, met with Philippe Kridelka, Director UNESCO, and Rochelle Roca-Hachem, Programme Specialist for Culture UNESCO, in the New York UNESCO office to present the petition asking the UN organization to protect, not deny, Jewish heritage. The petition, initiated last November after the UNESCO decision to re-label two of Judaism’s holiest sites, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, as mosques garnered over 120,000 signers from across the globe. With the petition, the Protect Our Heritage representatives brought samples of the hundreds of supportive letters it received.

During the ninety-minute meeting, Kridelka elaborated on the significant contributions, intellectual, scientific and monetary Israel makes to UNESCO’s efforts in Africa. He explained that UNESCO reaches it decisions about heritage sites by a vote of its member states and that where there is no consensus, the decision is declared but often not implemented. In its October press release (Implementation of 184 EX/Decision 37), UNESCO referred to Rachel’s Tomb and The Cave of the Patriarchs as “the two Palestinian sites of al- Haram al-Ibrahimi/Tomb of the Patriarchs in al-Khalil/Hebron and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.” The roll call vote was 44 voting for the resolution 1 against (USA), and 12 abstentions. Since the decision about Rachel’s Tomb and Cave of the Patriarchs was not a consensus, the UNESCO board has not implimented it.

Kridelka reviewed meetings he had held on the topic with Israeli representatives and representatives from the American Jewish Committee, both of whom “understood” and were “satisfied with” UNESCO’s handling of the situation.

Rabbi Weissberg provided a detailed and passionate explanation of how those sites have for near 4,000 years been the epicenters of the Jewish experience and how the UNESCO ruling aids those who wish to erase Jewish history and supersede Jewish religious sites with Islamic institutions. Whitewashing Judaism from the the land of Israel is part of a concerted effort to obliterate a Jewish future in the homeland of the Jewish people. The UNESCO decision hit a nerve with hundreds of thousands of Jews and Christians who value the heritage and history those sites represent.

Although Rabbi Weissberg and Shapiro thanked the UNESCO delegation for holding back on implimentation, Shapiro pointed out a few logical fallacies to the UNESCO system of designating heritage sites and the danger of settling for non-action. Most of the nations who voted to assign Jewish heritage sites to Muslims were antangonistic to Israel before they voted on this issue. These same states are also less than friendly to the U.S. Thus they could vote that the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument are Muslim heritage sites. A  vote does not make it reality.

Secondly, a decision which is uninforced is like a guilty verdict with no sentencing. There may be a breath of relief at avoiding an immediate harsh consequence, but the open ruling allows for enforcement at a later point. Furthermore, an world organization whose mission states: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration” should not be on record as denying two of the world’s oldest Jewish heritage sites. On behalf of all those who signed, Protect Our Heritage asked UNESCO to reverse the decision.

Mr. Kridelka thanked Weissberg and Shapiro for coming and bringing the concerns to his attention. He gave assurances that all the documents would be taken to the Paris UNESCO headquarters and that the objections would be entered into the record and reviewed. To Protect Our Heritage will follow up with UNESCO actions and present a copy of the over 2,000-page petition to the US Congress, which funds many of UNESCO’s projects.

Petition Text
To:  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) 

H.E. Mrs. Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova, Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO
Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Mr. Davidson L. Hepburn (Bahamas), President of the General Conference
Bureau of the World Heritage Committee
Chairperson: H.E. Mrs. Mai Bint Muhammad Al Khalifa (Bahrain)
Rapporteur: Mr. Ould Sidi Ali (Mali)
Vice-Chairpersons: Mr. Tyronne Brathwaite(Barbados,H.E.Mr. NarangNout(Cambodia),H.E.Mr. Margus Rava(Estonia),H.E.Ms.Dolana Msimang(South Africa),H. E. Mr. Rodolphe Imhoof (Switzerland) 

We the undersigned protest The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) ruling that Israel has no right to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where almost all of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, to the National Heritage list. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, the oldest Jewish shrine and the second holiest site in Judaism, centers around the Cave of Machpelah, an ancient double cave revered for almost 4,000 years as the burial site of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. The connection of the Jewish people to the Cave of Machpelah was established some 3,800 years ago, when Abraham, the first Hebrew, purchased it for the express purpose of using it as a burial site for himself, his wife Sarah, and their future generations. It is the cradle of Jewish history and the focal point of Jewish identity. The rectangular enclosure over the caves is the only fully surviving Herodian structure. Thus the Tomb of the Patriarchs is of inestimable historical value as well as great sacred significance for the Jewish people.

We also protest the decision by UNESCO to re-label as an Islamic mosque the tomb of Rachel, Israel’s other matriarch, and to demand that Israel remove the site from its National Heritage list. The Tomb of Rachel, Judaism's third-holiest site, has been the scene of prayer and pilgrimage for more than three thousand years, and has an especially meaningful connection for Jewish women. Rachel, the matriarch who died in childbirth and was buried at that spot on the road to Hebron, has been a comfort and hope to Jews since biblical days. “Thus says the Lord, 'Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded…and they shall return from the enemy's land and there is hope for the future'… 'Your children shall return to their own country.” Jeremiah 31:16-17. Until 2000, the Palestinians recognized the site as Rachel’s Tomb. It was called “Rachel’s Tomb” in Al-mawsu'ah al-filastiniyah, the Palestinian encyclopedia published after 1996 and in PALESTINE, THE HOLY LAND, a Palestinian publication, with an introduction by Yasser Arafat. However, during the second intifada, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, a Palestinian daily, announced a new-found historical connection to Rachel’s Tomb, declaring that is was "originally a Muslim mosque.”

In an effort to erase Jewish history and supersede Jewish religious sites with Islamic institutions, Muslims have intentionally built mosques upon numerous synagogues and Jewish holy sites. The clearest examples are the Al-Aqsa mosque which sits on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, and the Dome of the Rock, which was built on Judaism’s holiest site of the two biblical Jewish Temples. This pattern repeats itself at the second and third holiest sites. Thus at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, there are domes over the tombs of Abraham and Sarah and a mosque over the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca. Photos from the early 1900's show no Muslim cemetery near the Tomb or Rachel. After 1948 Muslims built their own cemetery surrounding three sides of Rachel’s tomb and now claim that Rachel's Tomb is one of their burial plots and that it contains a Muslim rather than Jewish notable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office decried the ludicrous nature of the UNESCO decision:
“The attempt to detach the Nation of Israel from its heritage is absurd. If the nearly 4,000-year-old burial sites of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish Nation – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah –are not part of its culture and tradition, then
what is a national cultural site?”
“Sites such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb (which sits on the edge of Bethlehem) present an inconvenient truth for the pro-Palestine movement and its supporters, who want to claim that the Jews have no historic ties to this land.”

In cooperating with efforts to erase Jewish historical  ties to Israel, UNESCO is aiding and abetting those who hope to and obfuscate Israel’s Jewish past and undermine Israel’s Jewish future.

The UNESCO mission states: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”

We demand that there be no exception to UNESCO’s mission when it comes to Jewish heritage. Israel’s Jewish legacy must be recognized and preserved and not swept away to conform with the pro-Palestinian narrative. In attempting to sever the Jewish cultural, religious and natural heritage bond with the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, UNESCO denies the history it is mandated to preserve, engages in a political maneuver designed to weaken a member UN nation, and undermines its own principles. It aims to rob the Jewish people not only of two sacred sites, which are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, but also of their past and a legacy to pass on to future generations. We demand that UNESCO, whose purpose it is to protect heritage, also protect Jewish heritage, rather than deny it.


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