UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which has accepted the Palestinian Authority as a state, claims Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs [Me'arat Hamachpela, the Patriarch's Cave] are not exclusively Jewish sites and also belong to Christians and Muslims.
Israel has announced that the two holy places, dating back thousands of years, are being included in the country’s national heritage sites.
Rachel's Tomb is located immediately south of Jerusalem, "on the road to Efrata" near Bethlehem, where the Bible records (Genesis 35:19) that the matriarch was buried.
The other matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca (Rivka) and Leah – and the forefathers Avraham, Isaac (Yitzchak) and Yaakov (Jacob) are buried at the Patriarchs’ Cave in Hevron, which the Bible records was bought by Avraham for an enormous sum of money.
However, UNESCO director Irina Bokova has accepted the view of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, who warned that Israel’s inclusion of the two Biblical Jewish sites could harm the moribund peace process. UNESCO admitted the PA as a member four months ago despite the fact that PA chariman Mahmound Abbas failed to gain recognition in the international organization's General Assembly.
In a statement by the Paris-based agency, she did not explain the supposed Christian and Muslim connection with Rachel's Tomb. Palestinian Authority Muslim clerics have suddenly claimed in the past two years that Rachel’s Tomb actually was a Muslim site thousands of years ago, even though Islam was only founded 1,500 years ago.
Christians and Muslims built over Jewish structures at the Patriarchs’ Cave during the Crusades and the Muslim conquest.Jews were ony allowed to ascend seven of the many steps to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
During the Jordanian occupation of Hevron from 1948 to 1967, Jews were not allowed to visit Jewish sites in Hevron, the Old City of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region, and Christians also were prohibited from visiting their holy places.
Israel opened up all holy sites to the three religions after the Six-Day War in 1967.
In her statement, Bokova stated, “UNESCO has been mandated by its member States to provide assistance to the Palestinian Authority in the fields of education and culture. It has been working with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian civil society to protect and preserve the cultural heritage sites in the West Bank and is committed to continue doing so.”
The Palestinian Authority has increased efforts to claim several locations in Judea and Samaria as being under their sovereignty, including the Dead Sea and the Qumran Caves, where the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, containing the books of the Jewish Bible, were discovered in 1947.