Rachel’s tomb and the protection of Jewish holy sites « Yourish.com

January 19, 2010

Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.

Part IV : Civilian population #Section I — General protection against effects of hostilities #Chapter III — Civilian objects
Article 53 — Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship
Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954, and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:

(a) to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;

(b) to use such objects in support of the military effort;

(c) to make such objects the object of reprisals.

If, as Dickens wrote, “The law is a ass …” then, pardon the crudity, international law is donkey crap. Once upon a time, Rachel’s Tomb – where, according to tradition, the Matriarch, Rachel is buried in Bethlehem – was, as depicted in the mural below, located in an open area.

Mural of Kever Rachel

Now, however, it is surrounded by Israel’s security fence. The famous dome is no longer visible to approaching whorshippers.

Why all of the fortifications? During Arafat’s “Aqsa intifada,” two Israeli soldiers, Shahar Vekret and Danny Darai were killed by snipers while guarding the sacred shrine.

Even now, with the presence of the security fence to protect Rachel’s tomb, there’s an Arab apartment building with a clear view (or should I write “shot”) of the entrance to the tomb. So Israel placed camoflauge netting in front of the building to obscure the view.


I don’t recall any UN organization raising a hue and cry over this desecration of a Jewish holy site. Former Sen. George Mitchell in an anodyne statement in his famous report expressed his regret that violence occurred at Rachel’s Tomb and other religious place, but he failed to condemn the deliberate targeting of a Jewish holy site by the Palestinians.

Why did Israel station soldiers at Rachel’s tomb? Because Israel recalled what happened to Joseph’s tomb, just a few years earlier. Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time:

One occurred in Nablus, an Arab town under P.L.O. control. There is in Nablus a Jewish religious site, Joseph’s Tomb. Under the P.L.O.-Israeli peace accords, it remained a tiny enclave peopled by devout Jews and, for protection, a few Israeli soldiers. On Sept. 26, it was attacked by a Palestinian mob throwing firebombs. Six Israelis were killed. Many prayer books were burned.

This is the Middle Eastern equivalent of a mob of whites torching a black church, killing parishioners and burning its holy objects. Yet, while the tunnel received enormous coverage complete with diagrams, the desecration at Joseph’s Tomb, if reported at all, merited at most a few sentences. And a similar Palestinian attempt to firebomb Judaism’s third holiest shrine, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, received in the major American press no mention at all, save one in the New York Times–in a picture caption on page 12!

One can debate the merits of the Jerusalem tunnel. But whatever one’s view, it is hard to have a debate when one cannot get the facts straight. And one cannot get the facts straight because of the double standard in Middle East coverage that impugns Israel’s every move and patronizes Palestinians with endless free passes.

International law that is supposed to serve all the world, seems to be a tool in the hands of those who would erase the Jewish identity from the world.

Has any international body condemned the recent Iraqi efforts to purge Ezekiel’s tomb of any mention of his Jewishness?

Recently “Ur,” a local Iraqi news agency, reported that a huge mosque will be built on top of the grave by Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority, while Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments are being removed from the site, all as part of renovations.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, winner of the 1999 Israel Prize in Middle Eastern studies and chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, confirmed the report.

“I first heard the news of tomb desecration from a friend of mine who is a German scholar. After visiting the site he called me and said that some Hebrew inscriptions on the grave were covered by plaster and that a mosque is planned to be built on top of the tomb. He told me that he found the changes at the tomb disturbing and warned me that I’d better act quickly, before any irreversible damage will be inflicted,” Moreh said.

“I had contacted Mr. Shelomo Alfassa, US director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, and told him about this situation. Then I saw the report from the Ur news agency, mentioning the decision of the Antiquities and Heritage Authority to build a mosque and to erase the Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments,” Moreh said.

Ynet adds:

An application has also been made to the UNESCO headquarters, which is responsible for maintaining the religious character of holy sites.

Good luck with that. And don’t expect this desecration to get reported much.

Shortly after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the looting of Iraq’s museums was the source of much outrage. Of course then, the target was obvious: President Bush’s ill considered war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. All the usual international suspects used the opportunity to berate the President for one more breach of their sensitivities. But those same sensitivities don’t seem operative when it’s Jewish history that’s being erased.