Israeli Heritage Plans Provoke Palestinians

The plans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to declare Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron Jewish heritage sites have generated outrage on the West Bank. The move was perceived by Palestinians as an attempt to formalize a land grab around the sites and close off Muslim worshippers. The Cave of the Patriarchs is known to Palestinians as the Ibrahimi Mosque. An important Muslim spiritual site, it had been one of the most accessible holy sites to West Bank Palestinians. The Pales-tinian Authority’s leader, Mahmud Abbas, called the decision “a dangerous provocation” that threatened to lead to a holy war. Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, called on Israel “not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace.” Another apparent seizure attempt threatens the Shepherds’ Fields in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, where tradition says angels announced the birth of Jesus. Israeli settlers now are moving into the area, and Israeli solders have reoccupied a hilltop position that had been returned to the Beit Sahour municipality.

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