Out of everyone - whether Jewish or Muslim - who has been raising a hue and cry over the Israeli government's decision to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to the list of national heritage sites, how many have actually visited the place? No doubt, many Muslims have visited the ancient Herodian structure and, incited by Muslim extremists in various parts of the world, are taking to the streets to protest a move by the Israeli government that they are being led to believe is liable to prevent them from visiting the building and praying there. They believe that the structure houses the grave of Abraham, whom they consider an ancestor of the Arab people. On the other hand, most Jews who are raising their voices in protest against the government's decision have probably never been there and have little intention of visiting there in the future.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs - believed to house the graves of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah - is located in Hebron in a structure built by Herod in the first century B.C.E, about the same time the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt. (The tomb of Jacob's second wife, Rachel, is located near Bethlehem, which also appears on the list of heritage sites.) The Tomb of the Patriarchs is a site of great historical and archaeological importance, held sacred by the Jewish people since biblical times, second only to the Temple Mount. Jews have come to pray there throughout the ages, except for the periods when Muslim rulers have denied Jews access. Since the Six-Day War, when access for Jews became possible, hundreds of thousands come to the Tomb of the Patriarchs to pray each year.
Those who have visited the tomb know well that the structure and its interior have suffered from neglect over the years and urgently need repair and refurbishment. The government's decision is long overdue. So why the protests from Arabs and some Jews against a decision that would benefit all people, Jews and Arabs, who venerate this important site?
The answer looks clear when considering the reaction to the government's decision to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the list of national heritage sites. It is as if the government's decision shone a light that is penetrating the darkness and revealing the emotions of Arabs and some Jews regarding this site held sacred by the Jewish and Muslim religions.
For Arab propagandists it is one more occasion to announce to the world that there is no historical connection between the Jewish people and this land. As Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton at Camp David some years ago, there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. So now similarly, according to them, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron has nothing to do with the Jewish people. The Palestinians were here before the Jews, who according to this propaganda are just Johnnies-come-lately with no historical claim to the land. Well, we have heard that song before in all its absurdity, but Arab propagandists see no reason not to repeat it ad nauseam and to use it to incite the Arab population of Jerusalem and Hebron to riots, which are broadcast throughout the world.
But what about the Jewish Israelis who are joining the Arab protests and castigating the Netanyahu government for including the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the list of heritage sites to be repaired and preserved? Just what is eating them? Most of these critics have never been to the place and have no intention of visiting it. So why should they care if it needs refurbishment? What's more, although they are highly respectful of religious Muslims and their places of worship, and also respectful of religious Christians, although somewhat less so when it comes to evangelical Christians who fervently support Israel, they seem to have little regard for religious Jews and the hundreds of thousands who come to Hebron each year to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
It would be wrong for the government to give in to Arab propaganda and the hypocrisy of its Jewish critics. The structure of the Tomb of the Patriarchs is in dire need of repair and refurbishment. And the days during Ottoman and British rule when Jews coming to pray at the site were not allowed to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairway leading to the prayer area, and during Jordanian rule when they were denied access altogether - these days are gone forever.
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