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The Day In Israel: Thurs Nov 4th, 2010

A number of days ago, UNESCO classified the Jewish holy site Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque.

Israel has now reacted to this appalling decision by refusing to cooperate with them.

Israel on Wednesday said it would reduce cooperation with the United Nations’ cultural watchdog after the body classified Rachel’s Tomb in the West Bank as a mosque.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would not cooperate with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – in administering five protected sites in Palestinian terriroty as a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks came to a head.

The ancient tomb, which lies between Jerusalem and the nearby Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem, is traditionally regarded as the burial place of a biblical matriarch and is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Speaking with journalists in Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Palestinians for influencing the UN to side against Israel.

“This is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

However, Israel’s reaction was not quite as serious as it first appeared. Ayalon’s spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether – but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement.

UNESCO had become a “rubber stamp” for the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, Ayalon added:

“Decisions like this take us farther away from peace and understanding between our two nations.”

Israel’s boycott follows an angry statement last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemning UNESCO’s ruling on the tomb, which Muslims call the al-Ibrahimi Mosque.

“The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd,” the statement said. “If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?”

In its biannual session which ended last week, UNESCO adopted five proposals initiated by Arab member states regarding Jewish and Muslim holy sites.

One of them, in what Israelis charged was a first, used an allegedly politically motivated title to describe Rachel’s tomb, rebuffing a recent Israeli move to classify the burial place, and another in Hebron, as “national heritage sites”.

Referring to the structure as the “Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb”, UNESCO’s board voted 44 to one, with 12 abstentions, to reaffirm that the site was “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law”.

Ynet has more on Ayalon’s statement regarding UNESCO:

“Israel has no intention of cooperating with UNESCO,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Knesset on Wednesday in response to the world culture organization’s decision to characterize the site of Rachel’s Tomb as a Muslim mosque.

“We should see the organization’s call to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb from the list of Israel’s national sites as part of Palestinian escalation in international organizations,” he said.

“Israel rejects all five of UNESCO’s decisions and has no intention of cooperating with the organization,” the deputy FM said, adding ‘this is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Decisions like this take us farther away from peace and understanding between our two nations.”

Remember, folks. Saying FU to the UN = FUN.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

3:30PM: It looks like the UK also signed a film industry cooperation agreement with the palestinians.

Or is it more?

Billed by British officials as the “first treaty between the two nations,” Palestinian culture minister Siham Barghouti signed a film agreement with visiting UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday.

The agreement aims to “lead to the sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills, helping stimulate productivity in both film industries,” and follows several French initiatives to support cinema in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Earlier in the day, Hague met with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, where he also signed a Film Co-production Treaty.

Hague signed the agreement during his first visit to Ramallah since he assumed office in June. During his time in the city he met with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad Al-Malki, he will later tour Egypt, British officials said in a statement.

At first I suspected this was a bit of Ma’an exaggeration. But it’s not.

This agreement is the first ever bilateral treaty between the two nations

The UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories today (3 November) for his first visit to Palestine since he assumed office. The Foreign Secretary is visiting the OPTs as part of a regional visit that includes Israel and Egypt.

The Foreign Secretary met Prime Minister Dr. Salaam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki today in Ramallah. In Ramallah, he also met Palestinian police graduates, community leaders from the villages affected by the wall. He hosted prominent members of the Palestinian community at the British Consulate General in East Jerusalem.

The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister discussed a wide range of issues, including Gaza, the peace process and the economy. After the meeting the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister signed the first bilateral treaty between the PLO and the UK Government. This treaty is designed to enhance cooperation in the field of film. This co-production treaty will lead to the sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills, helping stimulate productivity in both film industries.

The Foreign Secretary said:

“I am very impressed by the progress Prime Minister Fayyad and his team has made over the past year in developing Palestinian institutions. This treaty is a visible sign of the UK’s confidence in the maturity of those institutions. The policy of the current UK government is the same as its predecessor. We believe in a two state solution which sees security for Israel and a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with a just and agreed solution for refugees and Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two nations.”

Talk about creating facts on the ground.

3:18PM: More on Israel’s gas prospects.

3:10PM: The PA is upset Ahmed Qureia had to take the bus.

After Israel’s refusal to let former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia into Jordan by car, Palestinian officials are claiming that the state is punishing them for their positions in the peace negotiations.

IDF soldiers guarding the border refused to allow Qureia, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, from crossing the Allenby Bridge with his car on Wednesday, and suggested that he and his wife take the bus like other travelers.

Other Palestinian officials say thy have received a message that Israel will deny them the benefits they were given as part of the Oslo Accords.

Spokesperson Ghassan Khatib called the measure yet another step made by Israel to limit the activity of Palestinian leaders.

Israeli security officials said on Wednesday that the decision to deny Qureia entrance into Jordan with his car was influenced in part by his recent statements against Israel. “These statements are unjustified and tendentious,” one official said.

Queria recently said that the Palestinians have many options if the peace negotiations fail, including resistance. PA officials said that Israel’s actions are a punishment for his positions.

What do they expect? If a so-called peace partner suggests terrorism should be revisited, we should take it lying down?

He’s lucky we don’t run him over with a bus.

Afterthought: Could make for a catchy new song.

The wheels on Abbas go round and round..

10:55AM: Mandatory reading of the day: Believe it or not, this was published in Ha’aretz.

The legendary TV sleuth Columbo used to question witnesses to a crime he was investigating by confronting them brusquely: “Just give me the facts,” he would say. He was not interested in hearing conflicting subjective accounts of the kind that appear in Akira Kurosawa’s famous film “Rashomon,” where each of the witnesses to a crime gave his subjective impression in mutually contradictory ways. The facts, that is all he wanted to hear. The facts, that is what is required of those who teach history to our children in school when they teach the history of Israel’s War of Independence.

Some years ago, the Ministry of Education instructed schools to teach our children the “Palestinian narrative” in addition to the Jewish (Israeli? ) narrative of the events of Israel’s War of Independence. Now that this instruction has been countermanded, a demand is voiced by some that the “Palestinian narrative” nevertheless continue to be taught in our schools. Are there really two narratives which our children should be taught? Is history no more than a collection of conflicting narratives?

The “narrative” mode of history is something of recent vintage, a fad not likely to persist. It is the facts that we want our children to be taught in history lessons. There may be different interpretations of certain events that may need to be elaborated, even when the events themselves have been established beyond doubt. It is only when the actual course of events has been difficult or impossible to ascertain that there is room for presenting different versions.

As a matter of fact, the narrative form of teaching history seems to have struck root primarily in Israel. Would anyone suggest that in American schools the “Japanese narrative” of the American-Japanese conflict during World War II be taught alongside the “American narrative”? Is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 no more than the American version? Or how about teaching in Russian schools the “German narrative” of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941? This seems too preposterous to contemplate.

So why is this happening in Israel? Yes, there is a “Palestinian narrative” of the 1948 war, and it is called “Nakba.” But as every student of that war and the still-living witnesses know only too well, the Nakba version is no more than a pack of lies. No juggling and politicized interpretations of the events of that war, in which one percent of the Jewish population fell fighting against the Arab attack, can change the fact that the Arab world – the local Arab militias and the regular armies of the neighboring Arab countries, plus Iraqi forces – attempted to destroy the Jewish State in a war they started immediately after the UN resolution dividing western Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in November 1947.

Six thousand Jews – soldiers and civilians – fell in that war fighting against the Arab onslaught. Where the Arabs were successful the Jewish population was killed or deported, and all Jewish property was destroyed. What happened in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and in the Etzion bloc in May 1948 when they fell to the Jordanian Legion was a portent of the fate that awaited the entire Jewish community had the Arabs won this war. All this has been effaced in the “Palestinian narrative.”

Is it suggested that this falsification of history should be taught to schoolchildren – Jews and Arabs – in Israel?

It is true that the Arab population of Palestine suffered grievously during that war. But it is also beyond doubt that this tragedy was brought on them by the decisions taken by the Arab leadership. It is essential that this part of the history of Israel’s War of Independence, of the “Israeli narrative” if you like, be taught in our schools to Jewish and Arab children alike. And if true peace is ever to reign among Israel and its Arab neighbors, it is important that the Arabs recognize that what they call the Nakba was a self-inflicted tragedy.

Just as real peace could come to Europe after World War II only after Germans abandoned the “German narrative” and accepted the true history of the war that Germany started, so only abandonment of the “Palestinian narrative” and acceptance of the true sequence of the events of 1947-48 can serve as a basis for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.

8:52AM: In a survey taken by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion:

  • 56% oppose resuming talks with Israel
  • 46.2 say they somewhat or strongly support Qassam rocket attacks on Israel
  • 86.7% say they miss Arafat

8:50AM: Earlier this month, UNRWA New York Director Andrew Whitley upset palestinians and their supporters when he said:

“If one doesn’t start a discussion soon with the refugees for them to consider what their own future might be – for them to start debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes – then we are storing up trouble for ourselves.”

Sounded like me to be one of the most common sense, reasonable things to ever come out of the mouth of a UN official.

Well, who didn’t see this coming?

UNRWA New York Director Andrew Whitley apologized and retracted his “inappropriate and wrong” comments on the right of return.

He reiterated in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Petra, that the comments he made don’t represent the views of UNRWA.

In his October 22 remarks, made at the National Council on US-Arab Relations in Washington, Whitley said that Palestinian refugees should abandon the hope that they will be granted a right to return and that Arab countries should look for places to resettle them.

Jordan on Thursday fully rejected the remarks made by Whitley on Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

In his letter of apology presented to the UNRWA, Whitley said “I am writing following my realisation – from media reports, statements and letters from individuals, organisations and governments – that part of the remarks I delivered at a conference in Washington hosted by the National Council on US – Arab Relations, on 22 October, 2010, were inappropriate and wrong. Those remarks did not represent UNRWA’s views.” He expressed his sincere regrets and apologies over any harm that his words might have done to the cause of the Palestine refugees and for any offence he might have caused.

“I have spent much of my long career working for the Palestinian people, and defending their rights, in different professional capacities. It is definitely not my belief that the refugees should give up on their basic rights, including the right of return,” he added.

UNRWA’s Commissioner General Filippo Grandi earlier said that Whitley will no longer serve as UNRWA New York Director as of early next year.

6:05AM: Message to former PA Prime Minister Ahmed “for the straight guy” Qureia:


Israel prevented former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia from crossing into Jordan by car, Ynet reported Wednesday.

Qureia, the current chairman of the Palestinian Parliament, has been entering the Hashemite Kingdom through the Allenby Bridge since his return to the territories in the aftermath of the Oslo accords in 1994.

However, Israel has officially announced that from now on only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad would receive special treatment. Security establishment officials admitted that Wednesday’s decision had to do with Qureia’s recent statements against Israel’s settlement policy.

The former Palestinian prime minister recently said that should peace negotiations collapse, the Palestinians have the option of resorting to armed resistance.

Qureia and his wife, who plans to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia were told by soldiers manning the Allenby Bridge crossing that they cannot pass by car but are permitted to take the bus.

The coordinator of government activities in the territories said the Palestinian Authority was informed of the decision ahead of time.

6:00AM: Still on the subject of William Hague, is it just me, or did anyone else expect water to come out of that “flower-type thing on his suit jacket?

5:55AM: Some people may be a little shaken and stirred by Israel’s halting of “strategic dialogue” with Britain over defense and security issues in protest over attempts to use British law to prosecute visiting Israeli officials, but that is not to say our bond is broken.

Israel and Britain signed a cooperation agreement in the field of cinema on Wednesday after 10 years of intense negotiations. According to the agreement, Israel will become a favorite filming location for British films while production companies will get financial incentives and tax benefits from Israel to shoot in the country.

The deal was signed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his British counterpart  William Hague, whois currently visiting Israel.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry estimated that British films may start being filmed in Israel very soon. One option that is being considered is shooting parts of the next “James Bond” flick in Israel.

The deal was signed after a decade of diplomatic efforts at a time when many UK cultural and academic establishments are calling to boycott the Jewish state. The agreement’s financial and economic potential is huge: The British film industry makes over £5 billion ($8 billion) a year and is ranked third in the scope of production after the United States and India.

The deal will provide Israeli cinema with massive exposure and will increase the film budgets Israel recieves from overseas sources.

Meanwhile, UK filmmakers are already at work to produce two films about the British mandate period which may be filmed in Israel. A British delegation is slated to visit Israel in the coming months to consider future collaborations.

Israel’s Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor, who played a major role in brokering the deal, said: “Signing the agreement was one of the important goals I set for myself.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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