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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

How Rachel's tomb became a 'mosque'

Some of you may have been surprised last week to hear that UNESCO decided that Kever Rachel (Rachel's tomb) is a 'mosque.' The notion that Kever Rachel is a 'mosque' began to be invented by the 'Palestinians' in 1996.
Between 1993 and 1995, Palestinian groups committed terror and suicide attacks that killed 80 Israelis. In February 1996, the IDF feared that Rachel’s Tomb would furnish a convenient target for an attack of this sort, as it was situated on the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Hebron, with heavy Jewish and Arab traffic. Demonstrations of a nationalist Palestinian character erupted at Rachel’s Tomb as Muslims began to raise the argument that the site involved “Islamic soil.”

At the end of September 1996, the “Western Wall Tunnel Riots” broke out. After the attack on Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and its fall to the Palestinians, hundreds of Arabs from Bethlehem and the Aida refugee camp attacked Rachel’s Tomb. They set on fire the scaffolding that was erected around the tomb as part of fortification work at the site and tried to break into the compound. Marching at their head was Muhammad Rashad al-Jabari, the governor of Bethlehem, an appointee of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF dispersed the demonstrators with gunfire and stun grenades. Scores were wounded, including Kifah Barakat, the commander of Force 17, the presidential guard of PA chairman Yasser Arafat.

With the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, Palestinians again attacked Rachel’s Tomb, and for 41 days Jews were prevented from visiting the site due to shooting incidents.

The Muslims also escalated their rhetoric. They stopped calling the site “Rachel’s Dome,” as they had done for hundreds of years, and began calling it the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah. The Muslim religious authorities (Wakf) first began to employ this name in 1996, and it eventually took root in Palestinian national discourse.

Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian by origin, is known in Islamic history as a black slave who served the household of the prophet Muhammad as the person in charge of calling the Muslims to prayer five times a day – the first muezzin. Upon the death of Muhammad, he went to fight the wars of Islam in Syria, was killed there in 642 CE, and was buried in Damascus. The Palestinian Authority raised the argument that, according to Islamic tradition, the Islamic conquerors of the country called the mosque that was established at Rachel’s Tomb after Bilal ibn Rabah.

Yet the Palestinian argument ignores the presumptive ownership that the Jews acquired at the site for many hundreds of years and from the firmans that the Ottoman authorities issued awarding Rachel’s Tomb to the Jews at the beginning of the 19th century.

The Palestinian arguments ignore even the accepted Muslim tradition that venerates Rachel and identifies the site as her burial place. Prof. Yehoshua Porat termed the claim of a mosque at Rachel’s Tomb as mendacious. He noted that the place was known in Arabic as “Rachel’s Dome – a Jewish place of worship.”

For many years in official publications of Palestinian national bodies, there was no reference to any other name for the site, including in the Palestinian Lexicon issued by the Arab League and the PLO in 1984, or in the Al-mawsu’ah al-filastiniyah published in Italy by the Palestinian Encyclopedia organization after 1996.

The book Palestine the Holy Land simply relates that “At the northern entrance to the city [Bethlehem] the Tomb of Rachel appears, the mother of the matriarchs, who died while giving life to Benjamin.” The book The West Bank and Gaza – Palestine also fails to mention the location of Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque. Despite this, the deputy minister of religious trusts and religious affairs in the Palestinian Authority defined Rachel’s Tomb as an Islamic site.

On Yom Kippur 2000, six days after the IDF retreated from Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, the official PLO newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida published an article indicating Rachel’s Tomb as the next Palestinian target. “Bethlehem – Rachel’s Tomb or the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah is one of the stakes that the occupation government and the Zionist movement drove into most of the Palestinian cities... This grave is spurious and was originally a Muslim mosque.”

During the second intifada, Rachel’s Tomb was attacked by gunfire both from the direction of the Aida refugee camp between Beit Jala and Bethlehem, as well as from the rooftops of houses to the west, south and east. Palestinian Authority forces, who were presumably in charge of preserving order and should have prevented violence, not only did not prevent it but took an active part in the fighting. At one point, 50 Jews found themselves besieged at Rachel’s Tomb while a gun battle between the IDF and Palestinian Authority forces was taking place around them.

On April 2, 2002, the IDF returned to Bethlehem in the framework of Operation Defensive Shield and remained there for a protracted time. A bomb was thrown at Rachel’s Tomb on April 10, 2005, and another on December 27, 2006, while on February 10, 2007, scores of Palestinians attacked the site with rocks.

The High Court of Justice has recognized the clear security need of defending this holy site. On February 3, 2005, it rejected petitions by Palestinians who wanted to change the route of the security barrier near Rachel’s Tomb, ruling that the current location of the barrier preserved the balance between freedom of religion and the local residents’ freedom of movement.
To learn more about the history of Kever Rachel (which has been identified as such for about 1,700 years), read the whole thing.

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At 10:50 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

DURING THE INTIFADA and while Kever Rachel was officially closed,
a minyan of kollel men from Mercaz Harav Kiik learnt every day in a truck container set alongside the Kever, thanks to support from the Freund family.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

great piece. I also found this article from an Israeli think tank in Jerusalem. Check it out!

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

great piece! You guys should also check out this article on Rachel's Tomb. Here's the link:

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

great piece! There is another good article on Rachel's Tomb, and how it is NOT a mosque. check it out!

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Unknown said...



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