The Palestinian Authority has announced plans to seek United Nations help in preventing Jewish growth in two Judean cities. They have asked the UN to recognize both Bethlehem and Hevron as World Heritage sites, rather than Jewish Heritage sites, a new label they hope will prevent “Judaization.”
The PA initiative follows the media uproar after Israel's recent inclusion of the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Maarat Hamachpelah) in Hevron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem on the list of Israeli national heritage sites.
UNESCO has already responded to Israel's heritage site list by declaring that Rachel's Tomb is a mosque.
Turkey is assisting the new PA initiative by providing documentation from the Ottoman period, archived in Ankara, that shows various sites in Hevron under Moslem rule.
Researchers from Lebanon and Italy have joined the project to try to obtain World Heritage status from UNESCO as well.
PA officials in Hevron told local media that they hoped this type of UN recognition would prevent “Israeli expansion” and Jewish growth in the city. Several hundred Israeli Jews currently live in Hevron, one of the four holy cities of Israel according to the Talmud, and hundreds of thousands of Jews visit it every year to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs..
While the city was historically mixed, with Jews and Arabs living peacefully side by side, a barbaric pogrom in August,1929 changed the situation and temporarily ended Jewish presence in the city. The very same Arabs who had been helped by their Jewish neighbors for years, slaughtered the defenseless families, butchering their children without mercy and killing 67 people at the behest of the Mufti of Jerusalem.
Jews returned to Hevron soon after the Six Day War in 1967, despite the obvious animosity of the Arabs living there, founding a Yeshivah and acquiring buildings that made their presence felt. Houses in the Arab market showed clear signs of the mezuzahs that had been on the doorposts before the Jews were massacred, but regaining those properties entailed not always successful legal battles, some of which are ongoing.
In the 1997 Hevron Agreements, the city was divided into two areas, H1 and H2, with the Jewish residents restricted to the much smaller H2 which which remains under Israeli control, while the PA controls the rest of the city, making it off-limits to Israelis.
While it has yet to get Heritage status for Hevron, the PA has already begun other attempts to limit Jewish growth in the city. It is making changes on the ground, building a neighborhood between Hevron's Jewish neighborhood and the nearby Jewish city of Kiryat Arba in an attempt to separate the two.
Jewish residents of Hevron have expressed concern about the project, which they say is likely to become a source of terrorist attacks, and condemned Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Trinidad Jimenez, whose country is underwriting the project, when she visited the city this week.