CAVE OF THE PATRIARCHS, Hebron – Israel reacted angrily to the UNESCO resolution declaring the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron an endangered Palestinian heritage site, a decision that ignores the Bible and 4,000 years of Jewish history.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened this week's cabinet meeting by reading from the book of Genesis.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs, Machpelah in Hebrew, in Hebron goes back to the first book of the Bible. Genesis 23:16-19 records Abraham's 400 shekel purchase of the cave in the field of Machpelah as a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah.
"The connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history that may be without parallel in the history of peoples," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers. "Of course this did not prevent the UNESCO World Heritage Committee last Friday from passing yet another delusional resolution, which determined that the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the same Cave of Machpelah, is a Palestinian heritage site.
Following the resolution's passage, Netanyahu announced he would cut $1 million from Israel's U.N. dues and use the funds to establish a Jewish heritage museum in Hebron.
Yitzhak Reiter is an expert on holy places.
"I think that the claims that the site is under danger are baseless," Reiter said. "The motivation is dual. One is to score points for future negotiations claiming sovereignty over the Cave of the Patriarchs and also on Hebron and the other one is to prevent Israelis from taking over more space in the site."
King Herod built the structure over the cave 2,000 years ago, which its unique architectural style reflects.
Some 1,200 years later, the Muslim Mamluk conquerors modified the structure and added minarets. They now call it the al Ibrahimi Mosque, claiming the mosque and surrounding Mamluk structures are in danger from Israel.
Israel shut down many shops in the area over the years for security reasons as a result of repeated terror attacks.
Under Israel's authority, Jews, Christians, Muslims and anyone else can pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs.
But Hebron Deputy Mayor Youseff al Jabari says he'd change that if he could.
"The Ibrahimic sanctuary is originally a Muslim mosque," Jabari said. "So, we'll make all the efforts with the international institutions to put pressure on the Israeli occupation for the need to return this sanctuary to an Ibrahimic mosque, which is a purely Islamic mosque."
Long-time Hebron Jewish community resident Noam Arnon says UNESCO could be helpful if it would stick to its mission.
"But they are totally being captured by the Palestinians and their lies," he said.
Some believe the UNESCO vote is just one more battle front in the campaign to erase Jewish ties to the land of the Bible.