Israel suspends cooperation with UNESCO over tomb dispute

Last Updated: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 21:22

Jerusalem: Israel suspended cooperation
with UNESCO on Thursday to protest at the cultural organisation`s
description of the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel, near
Bethlehem in the West Bank, as a mosque.

"Israel has suspended cooperation with UNESCO," Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told parliament, according to a
statement from his office.
The move comes after the United Nations cultural
organisation on October 21 adopted a series of decisions
concerning the Palestinian territories, including one on what
it called "Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel`s Tomb in Bethlehem,"
a formula rejected by Israel.

Ayalon said ties with UNESCO would remain frozen until
it repealed the decision describing the tomb as a mosque, a
definition Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has
described as "absurd."

"The UNESCO decision was made by the automatic Arab
majority and was another attempt to delegitimise Israel
instigated by the Palestinian Authority," the statement said.

"Decisions like these push peace further away and harm
the reputation of UNESCO, which has become a rubber stamp for
the Palestinian Authority," the statement said.

There was no immediate reaction from UNESCO.

The site, where according to tradition the biblical
matriarch Rachel is buried, is the third holiest in Judaism,
but also considered a holy place for Muslims. According to
tradition, women who have difficulty conceiving pray at
the tomb for children.
The tomb is in an enclave controlled by the Israeli
military on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of
Bethlehem.

Rachel`s Tomb, together with the Tomb of the
Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, were at the centre
of controversy earlier in the year when Israel included them
in a national heritage restoration plan.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova Bokova endorsed a statement
by Robert Serry, UN coordinator for the Middle East peace
process, that the sites have "historical and religious
significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam and to
Christianity."

She also "expressed her concern" at the heritage plan
and the "resulting escalation of tension in the area."

Israel defended the decision at the time, saying the
plan involved only restoration work and promising there would
be no attempt to change the delicate status quo at these
sites.

Ayalon`s call for a boycott followed an angry
statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last
week, condemning UNESCO`s ruling on the tomb, which Muslims
call the al-Ibrahimi Mosque.

"The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its
heritage is absurd," the statement said.

"If the places where the fathers and mothers of the
Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah
and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish
heritage then what is?," it said.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 21:22

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