Let it never be said that Israeli pols don’t know how to chew the scenery when they have to act the part of the outraged victim on the world stage. In recent days, UNESCO declared Hebron’s Old City and Ibrahimi Mosque as World Heritage sites. Though the wording of the resolution wasn’t released, since the Palestinian representative offered the proposal, its passage at least tacitly acknowledged that Hebron as a Palestinian site. To anyone in their right mind, this would be obvious. After all, there are nearly 250,000 Palestinians living in Hebron and its vicinity. It is one of the three largest towns in the West Bank, otherwise known (to most) as Palestine.
The resolution also indicates that the world body considers these two locations to be endangered. UNESCO will now undertake to review their status yearly and report on any further dangers the sites face. This of course enrages Israel, which believes that it “owns” the lands conquered in 1967 and can do with them as it wills, despite international consensus to the contrary.
אונסקו בחברון: שטייניץ המריא לשיאים חדשים של ספין ואמר לאריה גולן הבוקר כי החלטת אונסקו היא הכחשת שואה ומחיקת קיומו של העם היהודי. לא פחות.
— Shemuel Meir (@ShemuelMeir) July 9, 2017
UNESCO also didn’t take into account the histrionics of which any self-respecting Israeli pol is capable. After the announcement, geshreis could be heard all the way from the Knesset in Jerusalem to the foreign ministry in Tel Aviv. Perhaps the best came from Yuval Steinitz, junior minister and close Bibi confidant who told an interviewer that the decision amounted to “Holocaust denial” and “erasing the existence of the Jewish people.” The Holocaust reference is to a 1929 massacre of 67 Jews which ended centuries of Jewish presence there. While this certainly is a dark historical stain and tragedy, it is not a “Holocaust.” Rather, use of that term is a flagrant exploitation of a far more horrible trauma that threatened the very existence of the entire Jewish people. Sometimes I wish there was an intellectual, if not a codified law, that forbade cretins like Steinitz from abusing Jewish history for their own personal, partisan ends.
Another Likud minister called Hebron a “national symbol of the Jewish people.” If it is, then I suppose the Lenni Lenape tribe which allegedly “sold” Mannahatta to the Dutch for $24 in trinkets, could call Manhattan their own “national symbol” and demand its return.
Bibi Netanyahu falsely claimed that Israel guarantees freedom of worship for all at what Jews call the Tomb of the Patriarch:
Netanyahu pointed to extremists blowing up religious sites in the Middle East and said, “It is only in those places where Israel is, such as Hebron, that freedom of religion for all is ensured.”
He neglects a terribly inconvenient historical fact: that Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at the site in order to stake his claim to the site as belonging solely to Jews. Further, Israel regularly restricts Muslim access to the site and reserves it for exclusive access to radical settlers.
Israel further ghettoizes Hebron’s residents by sealing them off from the Old City, formerly the commercial heart of the city. All the shops there are nailed shut by the IDF and there is no longer any activity on Shuhadeh Street. All for the sake of 800 settlers who return the favor by throwing chairs, stones, urine and feces at their Muslim neighbors every chance they get. I’ll let you be the judge whether the town’s Old City and its Palestinian residents are endangered…
Netanyahu’s fit of piqué extended to penalizing the UN by further reducing Israel’s contribution to the UN by $1-million. He used a similar ploy when UNESCO released a statement endorsing Muslim claims to the Haram al Sharif. If he keeps this up, Israel’s contribution will fall to nothing. Then the next UN outrage will make him demand that the international body pay Israel for the crimes it commits against the Jewish people.
Not to be outdone, Naftali Bennett, whose political brand should be, “The Settlers’ Friend,” likened the UNESCO decision to false statements attributed to Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Khamenei:
“It’s disappointing and embarrassing to see UNESCO denying history and distorting reality time after time to knowingly serve those who try to wipe the Jewish state off the map.“
A bit of historical context is necessary here. Jews and Arabs lived in Hebron for centuries until European Zionists launched the First and Second Aliyot. This brought tens of thousands of eastern European Jews to settle in Mandatory Palestine. The resulting heightened tension incited riots and massacres targeting victims in both communities.
In 1929, such a pogrom led to the murder of 67 Jews. As a result, the 750 Jews living there abandoned their homes. An attempt to repopulate the Jewish community failed in 1931, when the British refused to permit 160 Jews to resettle there. Once Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, it permitted the historic revival of the Jewish presence in Hebron. Eventually, 800 ultra-nationalist settlers came to live in a small enclave fortified by hundreds of Israeli troops and reams of barbed wire, checkpoints, and security fences. Israel spends millions of dollars every year to maintain this presence, which serves as a perpetual irritant to the vast Palestinian population. Settlers have also fraudulently stolen Palestinian property in an effort to Judaize the town.
Thus there is a historical connection between Jews and Hebron. The city is part of ancient Jewish tradition. But it is no less central to the lives and heritage of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. The way to ensure a Jewish presence in Hebron is not at the tip of the bayonet. Israel cannot force 800 rabid Jewish zealots down the craw of the city’s 250,000 Palestinian residents. That is why Occupation fails and must end.
After a settlement of the conflict, Jews like the followers of Rabbi Menachem Froman, who accept Palestinian political sovereignty might be able to re-establish a Jewish community here. But they could only do so acknowledging that they live among Palestinians and must find a way to co-exist with them not as invaders or conquerors. But as spiritual seekers honoring an ancient tradition that has no political ax to grind.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.