The Israeli occupation authorities have decided to place two historic mosques in the occupied West Bank to a list of alleged Jewish heritage sites, drawing immediate rebuke from Palestinians and Israelis alike.
"This announcement is an act of aggression against the cultural and religious rights of the Palestinian people," Hamdan Taha, director of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry’s Antiquities Department, told the independent Maan news agency on Monday, February 22.
Hawkish Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu announced Sunday, February 21, adding Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) and Bilal Mosque in Bethlehem to a list of 150 so-called Jewish heritage sites that would be renovated to reconnect Israelis to their history.
The two Muslim sites were not included in the original plan which was first presented by Netanyahu on February 3.
But under pressure from right-wing ministers, Netanyahu decided to add the two sites to the plan.
Built in 635 A.D., Ibrahimi Mosque is one of the first Muslim worship places in Palestine.
But Jewish extremists claim the two sites, known to Israelis as the Cave of the Patriachs and Rachel’s Tomb, belong to historical Jewish heritage.
"Instead of making use of heritage to promote peace, it is being used as a means to promote war," lamented Taha, the Palestinian official.
Taha asserted that attempt to designate the two mosques as Jewish heritage sites "reflects an artificial history that solely serves Israel’s settlement policy."
"A religious shrine respected by Muslims, Christians, and Jews should be respected as a cultural and religious symbol, not as an opportunity to obstruct international efforts to reach a peace agreement."
Palestinians in Al-Khalil declared a general strike Monday to pretest the Israeli decision.
Al-Khalil Mayor Kahled Al-Eseili urged UNESCO to act quickly to protect the status of the Muslim shrines.
"(We urge UNESCO) to protect the Ibrahimi Mosque, prevent its desecration, and act against alterations to its features."
He asserted that the international law, including the Hague conventions, obliges the occupation authority not to change the historical heritage of the occupied.
"International law forbids an occupying power to change the status quo in the occupied territory," agreed Israeli Arab Hadash Party Chairman Muhammad Barakei.
"We are dealing with two mosques that have been in existence for hundreds of years in both Al-Khalil and Bethlehem, and this decision of the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government indicates that they plan to continue the occupation and the bloodshed in the region."
Israeli peace activists also blasted the move.
"The heritage of Netanyahu and his government is a bi-national state and the continued development of the settlements," Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer said.
"In the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, Netanyahu is burying the two-state solution and making negotiations [with the Palestinians] irrelevant."
The left-wing Israeli party Meretz also slammed the decision.
"This is another attempt to blur the borders between the State of Israel and the occupied territories," Meretz party chairman Chaim Oron told the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
"All it needs is a bit of pressure from the right, and Netanyahu falls into line. This decision puts Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan declaration of two states for two peoples in an absurd light."
(IslamOnline.net and Newspapers)