Photo Credit: Flash 90
Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron

The spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says his boss isn’t going to get involved in a battle with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron.

Both sites are being fast-tracked and listed for debate as “endangered” World Heritage Sites on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland, slated for July 2-12.


On Friday at a news briefing the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters his boss is “keen to see … critical issues being dealt with in direct negotiations between the parties.” However, Guterres is unwilling to directly intervene in the Palestinian Authority attempt to designate the city of Hebron as a “World Heritage Site in Danger.”

Stephane Dujaaric declined to comment on the current attempt by the Palestinian Authority to gain control over the site via UNESCO: “It is an issue that will be dealt with by UNESCO,” he said. “It’s their mandate.”

The Palestinian Authority has succeeded in claiming the “occupying force” (Israel) carried out a “dangerous” and exceptionally large concrete casting at the Cave of the Patriarchs. In fact, Israel made a minimal addition to the site that was coordinated with the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, according to Ynet.

At the meeting, the 21-member committee will debate the question of whether to inscribe the sites to the “State of Palestine.” If that effort succeeds, it will mark the first time that a Jewish holy site which contains Jewish houses of worship under Israeli control is registered to the Palestinian Authority.

“The Secretary-General believes that key issues between Israel and Palestinians need to be dealt with in direct negotiations,” Dujaaric told reporters on Friday.

“He has also come out very strongly when the UNESCO [executive board] resolution passed in Paris [October 2015], reaffirming his belief, reaffirming as a fact, that Jerusalem is a holy site to three monotheistic religions.”

(During the October 2015 meeting in Paris, the executive board of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a resolution affirming that the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron are “an integral part of Palestine” with no link to Israel.)

Guterres was not yet Secretary-General of the United Nations at that time. Nevertheless, Dujaaric added that his boss took some heat for his opinion, noting “I think he was, frankly, criticized by some for the stand he took on that resolution.”

As for what might happen at next’s month’s meeting, however: “I’m not going to comment specifically on something that has yet to happen.”

The Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are believed to be interred – and the city itself, one of the four Jewish holy cities mentioned in the Torah – is one of Judaism’s most sacred sites. The Cave is also holy to Muslims, who revere the burial place of Abraham and Isaac as well.

The ceaseless effort by the Palestinian Authority to delegitimize Israel’s historic connection to her geographic and spiritual roots is simply a different way to wage war, said Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama HaCohen.

“This is a clear continuation of the attacks and hallucinatory outrageous votes in UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” HaCohen said Thursday in a statement.

“Israel respects Muslim sensibilities and ensures freedom of worship, order, security, routine maintenance, and the development of infrastructure supporting the holy sites.

“Not only is the very essence of their claim outrageous, but also the way in which the Palestinians accuse the Israel with blood libel that never occurred.”

Abraham’s purchase of the Cave and the city in which it was located, for the purpose of burying the remains of his wife, Sarah, is clearly recorded in the Bible, HaCohen points out.

The area of the city in which the Cave is located remains under Israeli control, based on the agreement known as the 1997 Hebron Protocol, signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Oslo Accords.

If the Palestinian Authority is ignoring the Oslo Accords, why is Israel still moving forward with goodwill gestures to Ramallah?

Hana Levi Julian contributed to this report

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D.S. Levi is a news photographer and correspondent based in New York City.