When I originally wrote about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans for developing heritage sites, so that Israelis could tour the land and understand our roots here, I praised this effort. I still praise it in its essence, as it should tell our narrative and reinforce our connection to Israel.
However…the heart of that ancient narrative, the core of our heritage (outside of Jerusalem) is in Judea and Samaria — that is, beyond the Green Line in territory that the Arabs are claiming. Uneasy even in my moment of praise, I advised people to write and thank the prime minister for this conceptualization, and also urge him to include sites in Judea and Samaria.
Today Netanyahu unveiled his plan at the weekly Cabinet meeting. Word had it that three places beyond the Green Line — Herodion (a palace/fortress built by Herod in the Judean desert), Sussiya (an ancient city from Talmudic times in the southern desert with a synagogue whose magnificent floor mosaics can still be seen) and Qumran (the site of an ancient community, in the desert near the Dead Sea, with caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden) — would be on the list.
It was said, however, that other sites — most significantly the Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron) and Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb outside of Bethlehem) — would not be included.
But it seems that pressure worked, and both the Machpelah and Kever Rachel will be on the list. This is a signal lesson for us — that making noise does make a difference. The noise came from many sources — from protesting lobbyists, members of the government such as Uzi Landau, and members of the newly formed Knesset Lobby for the Land of Greater Israel.
This is a major victory, as these sites reach back to the Torah. We are told about the cave that Avraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite for Sarah’s burial, and about Rachel, who died on the way to Bethlehem, when giving birth to Benjamin, and was buried by Jacob on the side of the road. These two sites are the second and third holiest for Jews, after Jerusalem. It would be unthinkable to leave these out.
But we are not done. The list, we are being told, is yet to be finally closed. And there are other sites still missing that ought be included:
Shilo (an archeological site in Samaria, adjacent to the modern community of the same name). This is Biblical in source — from the time of Joshua until the building of the Temple, this is where the Tabernacle rested; it was a place of pilgrimage.
Beit El (ruins of an ancient town thousands of years old in Samaria, adjacent to the modern community of the same name). This too has Torah associations: Most significantly, it is where Jacob has his dream of the ladder that went from land to heaven, with angels ascending and descending; he erected a sacred pillar there, declaring “Surely there is G-d in this place and I did not know.”
Even now, it is appropriate to urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to add these places to the list. This is not simply about teaching our children about our heritage — as important as it is to do this. It is also about letting the world know what our rights are and what we lay claim to. We must not abandon our heritage.
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Then there is another site that I know, realistically, will not be included, but which must be recognized here because of its connection to our ancient heritage and the current political situation:
Kever Yosef (Joseph’s Tomb) — in Shechem (called Nablus by the Arabs) in Samaria — is traditionally considered to be the burial place of Joseph’s bones, which were carried out with the Israelites during the Exodus. It was this that Joseph had implored his family to do. According to the book of Joshua, the bones were buried in a “parcel of land Jacob [had] bought from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of silver.”
This is a particularly sensitive issue. In modern times, Israel acquired the Kever in 1967 and a yeshiva was established on the site. Then, as part of the Oslo process, in 1995 the area was turned over to the Palestinian Authority, which had an obligation “to ensure free, unimpeded and secure access” to it. But Arabs promptly ransacked it, and began turning it into a mosque. This was a moment of shame for Israel.
In 2002, with Operation Defensive Shield, Israel again gained control of the Kever; but it sits in a PA-administered area, surrounded by Arabs who would just as soon see Jews gone from the place.
It was not until 2007 that Jews were again allowed to visit Kever Yosef. Visits are done at night, so as not to “unduly agitate” the surrounding Arab population, and under heavy IDF guard. Degrading.
Follow-up on the visit of American Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to Ramallah to hear Fayyad last week:
Hard questions were submitted in writing before Fayyad spoke, but he addressed none of them, and instead spoke in platitudes. No Q & A session was permitted after he spoke, so there was no opportunity to challenge him. This was no a dialogue, but a staged event.
Alan Solow, who is chair of the Conference, introduced Fayyad, according to one reliable anonymous source, in terms that were “sickeningly gracious.” (Mr. Solow, an attorney, hails from Chicago, it should be noted, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of Obama.)
I voice again — perhaps more explicitly this time — my distress about this visit. It strikes me as simply wrong to offer the prime minister of the PA a gesture that seems to affirm his legitimacy when the PA won’t talk to the leaders of Israel.
It is my understanding that with one exception everyone who was at the convention attended this meeting. Some did so, however, with considerable reluctance. I can only assume that they imagined they might have input or an opportunity to challenge Fayyad if in attendance.
For those who went hoping to improve the “peace process” or “enhance dialogue” I have no words that would make a difference.
You might enjoy reading JINSA Report #964, which considers all of the possibilities regarding the assassination of al-Mabhouh beyond the glib conclusion that the Mossad did it: