UNESCO Debates ISIS Erasing of Jewish History

Special Paris session featuring Israeli expert to discuss ways of saving ancient Jewish sites that have come under ISIS's cruel grasp.

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Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar,

Wall fresco Dura Europos synagogue in Syria
Wall fresco Dura Europos synagogue in Syria
Reuters

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is to hold a special session on preserving Jewish historical sites that have fallen under the iron grip of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization, which has been looting and wrecking ancient non-Muslim relics.

Prof. Shmuel Moreh, a Middle Eastern Studies expert of Hebrew University who was born in Baghdad and serves as Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, is invited to the special conference to be held in Paris.

Moreh wrote to UNESCO in June when ISIS was rapidly expanding its control, saying "our request is to keep the following main Shrines which were kept and used by the Jewish community until the last day of their forced expulsion during 1950-1952 from Iraq." The expulsion was part of the 850,000 Jews violently expelled from Arab lands following the founding of the modern state of Israel.

Those main shrines include the tomb of Yehezkel (Ezekiel) the prophet in Iraq's al-Kifl, which has been turned into a mosque. Moreh noted that "it was in the hands of the Jews until few days before their forced expulsion from Iraq. ...Now it is used by Muslims as a Mosque and the Hebrew Inscriptions were damaged during constructions by the Shi'ite Waqf."

The roughly 2,000-year-old Eliyahu Hanavi (prophet Elijah) shrine and synagogue in Damascus which was destroyed by the Muslim extremists also was mentioned by Moreh, who pointed out it too was under Jewish control before the recent expulsion.

The Shrine of Joshua the son of Yehotzadak the High Priest located in Baghdad's western portion near the Jewish quarter was seized by Turkish authorities in the late 1800s notes Moreh, adding that it was returned to the Jews in 1910 where it remained up until the expulsion.

Another site listed by the professor was the "Tomb of Sheikh Ishaq Gaon in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad. He is said to be the treasurer of the fourth Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. Now it is unattended and fell into ruins."

Moreh also called on UNESCO to take action on the shrines of the prophets Daniel and Jonah, important sites which shortly after the letter was written were reportedly destroyed. He noted that a pre-Islamic Church in Mosul was built over Jonah's tomb, before later being converted into a mosque during the Islamic conquest.

A final site mentioned in the letter is the shrine of the prophet Nahum and his sister Sarah in the Christian city of Al-Qoosh. Moreh noted "Professor Yona Sabar of UCLA who visited the tomb found it in a ruined condition." 

Another Jewish site not mentioned in the letter which later was realized to be in danger is the Dura Europos synagogue, one of the oldest known synagogues.

The fate of the synagogue, which was discovered in 1932 and dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, remains unknown. ISIS has been looting and destroying finds or selling them in the black market from the area, as it has done in other regions as well.








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