The recent news that UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, has approved a Palestinian bid to list the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site is a significant development in the ongoing project to Palestinianize Yehuda and Shomron. UNESCO’s approval effectively endorses the absurd notion that there is a Palestinian heritage distinct from the history of Israel.
This has echoes of the October 2010 UNESCO declaration that the Tomb of the Hebrew Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” Astonishingly, the UN body admonished Israel for registering the shrines as national heritage sites, citing that “any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law.”
UNESCO’s decisions are either rooted in ignorance or malice. Either way, the cultural agency is doing a good job of disconnecting the people of Israel from its inheritance. As Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2010, “If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried […] some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage, then what is?”
The Palestinian Authority also wants UNESCO to list other religious sites, including Mount Gerizim near Shechem (Nablus), which is sacred to the Samaritans. So not only is Jewish culture being Palestinianized, but Israelite heritage in general is being (mis)appropriated for the political purpose of delegitimizing Israel’s claim to the land.
UNESCO’s decision regarding Bethlehem is hardly a surprise. It is yet another step in the Palestinian appropriation of the Judean town, which is famous for being the birthplace of King David and Jesus. When Arafat made his first Christmas appearance in Bethlehem in 1995, he invoked the Christian nativity by crying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” To which the crowd responded, “In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!”
Bethlehem obviously held a special place in Arafat’s heart. Not because he had any special love for Christianity but because it was a political rallying point. Bethlehem, according to Arafat, was the “birthplace of the first Palestinian Christian, Jesus Christ.” Arafat also proclaimed Jesus as “our Lord the Messiah.” While this is an astonishing statement for a Muslim to make, it is evidence of an overwhelming desire to Arabize the history and legacy of Israel and Judea. This, of course, has precedent in the Quran, which not only appropriates Isaac, Moses, David and Elijah, among others, but rewrites them from an Arab point of view.
Perhaps taking their cue from the replacement theology of the Quran, the Palestinian Arabs are experts in the rewriting of Eretz Yisrael. Hence, Israel is Palestine; Jerusalem is al-Quds; Yehuda and Shomron are the West Bank; Bethlehem and Hebron are Palestinian heritage sites; and Jesus the Jew is resurrected as Jesus the Palestinian. Some Palestinian Arabs deny the presence of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Then there are absurd claims made by some Palestinian Arabs that they are the descendants of the biblical Jebusites or Canaanites, or even the true offspring of the ancient Israelites.
That Eretz Yisrael is Jewish should be beyond dispute. All archaeological and historical evidence points towards a sustained Jewish presence. In contrast, there is no evidence of a long-term Palestinian culture, which is hardly surprising since the Palestinian Arabs are late-comers to the land.
In short, the Palestinian Arabs are effectively de-Judaizing the heritage of Eretz Yisrael and substituting their own pseudo-history. UNESCO’s participation in such blatant cultural and historical vandalism is shameful and is a violation of its promise to “create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values.”