Referring to the structure as the “Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb”, UNESCO’s board voted 44 to one, with 12 abstentions, to reaffirm that the site was “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law”.
…Director Irena Bokova had previously stated “concern” at Israel’s decision to treat the tomb as a heritage site.
The vote called for Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs – the burial site of the other Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs – to be removed from Israel’s National Heritage list.
The Palestinian Authority has claimed that Rachel’s Tomb is holy to Muslims as the site of a mosque called the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque. The PA demands control over both the tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron, as well as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
UNESCO appeared to support the PA demand for the Temple Mount as well, asking that Muslim officials be allowed to examine the Mughrabi Gate near the Western Wall (Kotel). Muslim leaders have accused Israel of attempting to damage the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount under the guise of repairs to the Mugrabi Gate. Israeli officials have warned that if the gate is not repaired, it could collapse, putting worshipers at the Western Wall at risk.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, Rabbi of the Western Wall, termed the decision “outrageous.”
“They have never said in the past that this was a Muslim holy site. The [UN] organization responsible for heritage has turned heritage into politics.” Israel should think carefully about whether or not to cooperate with UNESCO in the future, he said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the UNESCO ruling.
“Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians that they took the graves of their prophets as mosques. She (‘A’isha) reported: Had it not been so, his (Prophet’s) grave would have been in an open place, but it could not be due to the fear that it may not be taken as a mosque.”
Israel’s reaction was not quite as serious as it first appeared. Ayalon’s spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether – but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement.