By Michael Freund
The Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2010
A new malady is sweeping through the Middle East and beyond, spreading as rapidly as any contagion in recent memory. Like any epidemic, this nefarious virus has left havoc in its wake, claiming an increasing number of victims as it crosses borders and continents with all the speed that broadband can offer.
It is “holy hysteria,” and it has even struck some of the leading members of the international community.
The most common sign of this ailment, as any political physician will tell you, is an irrational overreaction to the Jewish people’s basic and fundamental right to revere its own sacred spaces. In especially severe cases, the symptoms of this illness have also been known to include denying the Jewish historical connection to various holy sites and willfully ignoring the mounds of evidence to buttress such claims.
The latest person to be hit by this dreadful disorder is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who this week joined the growing ranks of world leaders who have denounced Israel’s recently-published list of national heritage sites.
In a telephone conversation on Tuesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Mubarak reportedly warned against what he termed “the dangerous implications of the invasion of the Temple Mount and of including the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in the list of Jewish heritage sites.” Cairo even submitted an official protest to the government over the matter.
Mubarak’s blunt reaction actually seemed downright composed when compared with some of the frenzied responses emanating from the Palestinian leadership, who tried to outdo one another in their condemnation of the Jewish state.
TAKE, FOR example, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who on a visit to Brussels last week asserted that the decision could spark hostilities, labeling it “a serious provocation which may lead to a religious war.” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza likewise called on Palestinians to launch a new intifada and defiantly declared that “Jerusalem is ours, the land is ours. We will not accept these decisions.”
And at its weekly meeting in Ramallah, the PA cabinet went still further, denying the Jewish link to the burial places of the biblical patriarchs and referring to them in a statement as “Palestinian archeological and heritage sites.”
Not surprisingly, the international community was also quick to side with the Palestinians. The European Union called it a “provocative act,” as did the US State Department, and the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process issued a statement saying he was “concerned” by the decision.
This tempest over tombs is both absurd and offensive, and Israel should not in any way buckle under to the pressure.
Sites such as Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs are part of the national and religious patrimony of the Jewish people, and we do not need anyone’s permission to renovate and maintain them. Our reverence for these sites and attachment to them predates Muhammad and precedes Jesus, and no one has the right to lecture us about where and how we choose to serve God.
In fact, this entire episode provides a revealing glimpse of just how transparently hypocritical our critics have become. After all, it was nearly 15 years ago, in the September 1995 Oslo II Accords, that the Palestinians themselves recognized Israel’s attachment to Rachel’s Tomb. In Article V, Annex I to the agreement, the Palestinians agreed that “the present situation and existing practices in the tomb shall be preserved,” meaning that they clearly consented to Israeli control and use of the site, which has never been anything other than a place of Jewish worship.
So for chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to say last week that Israel’s move amounts to a “unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel” is not only absurd, it is patently false.
And since the accords were signed on the White House lawn in front of the world, and were formally witnessed by representatives of both the US administration and the European Union, one would expect them to see right through the Palestinians’ shenanigans.
Worse yet, by playing along with the feigned outrage of the Palestinian leadership, the international community is merely giving credence to their boorish denial of the Jewish essence of these sites.
YOU DON’T have to be a Biblical scholar or a learned archeologist to recognize the long-standing and incontestably Jewish nature of Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Arguing otherwise is akin to asserting that the earth is flat, Elvis is still alive and the moon is made of cheese, and that is how the Palestinian claims should be viewed.
Indeed, the late Prof. Ze’ev Vilnai, in his monumental study Holy Tombstones in the Land of Israel, noted that “the Cave of Machpela and the tombs of the patriarchs were known throughout all of the eras, and Jews looked upon them with great esteem” (Vol.1, p. 102). Similarly, regarding Rachel’s Tomb, Vilnai, considered the leading expert on the subject, wrote that it “was known throughout all of the generations, from the earliest ones onward” (Vol.1, p. 149).
But the sad fact is that history and reality just do not seem to matter all that much when it comes to how the world views Israel. Consumed by “holy hysteria,” they prefer to insult and even denigrate our most ancient traditions even as they give the Palestinians a free pass for their refusal to return to the negotiating table.
But let them grumble all they wish. Those who cherish and visit Jewish holy sites will continue to do so, whether or not others approve. And I am pleased that the government will at last begin to invest the funds needed to refurbish and restore them.
We have nothing to apologize for in paying our respects to the founding fathers and mothers of the Jewish people, and it is a blessing that our generation has been given access to their resting places. Treasuring our past, it should be clear, is no sin. But allowing others to trample on it most assuredly would be.