Bethlehem – Ma’an News-Rachel’s Tomb lies behind Israel’s eight-meter concrete separation wall in a fortified enclave close to the center of Bethlehem. The wall criss-crosses Bethlehem, blocking the main road to Jerusalem, encircling a refugee camp and looming over the upscale Intercontinental hotel.
Right-wing religious groups petitioned Israel’s highest court in 2004 to re-route the wall to include the tomb on the western side. To this day the site, formerly known as the location of the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, is accessible only from the Israeli side.
A major strategy of the Palestinians in their goal of ultimately taking over all of Israel is to deny Jewish ties to the land. They do this by de-legitimizing the Jewish connection to the site and/or destroying Jewish Holy sites. That’s why they hold on to the Temple Mount, destroying artifacts. That is why they burned down Joseph’s Tomb and it is why they are now targeting Rachel’s Tomb calling it the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque
Rachel’s Tomb lies on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem, about 460 meters (about 500 yards) south of the Jerusalem municipal border, and for more than 1,700 years has been identified as the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. A vast amount of literature written by pilgrims – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – documents the site as Rachel’s burial place.
Jews have visited the site for generations, coming to pray, request and plead. The place became a kind of miniature Wailing Wall where suppliant Jews came to pour out their hearts and recount their misfortunes at the bosom of the beloved mother, where they could find consolation and cure.
According to Jewish tradition, Rachel’s tears have special powers. Beginning with the first exile of the Jewish people from the Holy Land, tradition says Rachel’s weeping convinced God to make the exile a short one:
So says the Lord: A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children for they are not. So says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your work, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord, and the children shall return to their own border.
Writers, poets and biblical exegetics identified her tears with almost every catastrophe or trouble which plagued the Jewish people. And the Palestinians are angling to take Mother Rachel away from her children.
Since its establishment, the State of Israel every single agreement transferring responsibility for Jewish holy places to neighboring Arab or Palestinian rule has been broken.
- On April 3, 1949, Israel signed an armistice with Jordan. According to Paragraph 8, Article 2 of the agreement, Jordan was to allow Israel “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives.” In practice, not only could Jews not visit the graves of their loved ones on the Mount of Olives, but the site was desecrated. Headstones of Jewish graves were shattered and some were used as paving stones or in construction. Jordan did not allow Jews free access to their holy places, and for 19 years, until 1967, Jews could not go to the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), or other sites sacred to Jews which remained in Jordanian hands.
- In May 1994, Israel signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in Cairo. According to Article 15 of Annex II, “the Palestinian Authority shall ensure free access to all holy sites in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area,” mentioning the Naaran synagogue, the Jewish cemetery in Tel Sammarat, the “Shalom al Israel” synagogue in Jericho, and the synagogue in Gaza City.
- On September 28, 1995, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement was signed on the White House lawn, making the Palestinians responsible for civilian and security matters in additional areas of the West Bank. In accordance with the agreement, Israel withdrew from six Palestinian cities and part of Hebron; the IDF and the civil administration were withdrawn. In addition, Israel withdrew from 450 villages, towns, refugee camps, and other areas throughout the West Bank.The holy sites in those regions, or adjacent regions (access to which passed through or close to Palestinian areas), were designated as “sites of religious significance” or “archaeological sites.” The agreement also dealt with the status of 23 places holy to Jews, including the tombs of biblical figures, the ruins of ancient synagogues, and ancient cemeteries. The Palestinians promised to assure freedom of access to those places.
IN EVERY SINGLE CASE the Palestinians either made access extremely difficult for Jews to get to the holy sites or or prevented acesss entirely.
- In October 2000, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was attacked, set ablaze and desecrated. Druze Border Police Corporal Yusef Madhat bled to death on October 4 because Palestinians refused to allow his evacuation. It also became extremely complicated for Jews to reach other, less well-known places, such as the tomb of Avner ben Ner near Hebron, or similar sites, to say nothing of the synagogue in Gaza. Only at the “Shalom al Israel” synagogue in Jericho did the Palestinians generally adhere to the agreement, for a time, until it too was attacked with the outbreak of the second intifada in the fall of 2000. Holy books and relics were burned, and the synagogue’s ancient mosaic was damaged. Unfortunately, there has been a discernible deterioration in Palestinian treatment of Jewish holy sites in 2007, including the Tomb of Joshua bin Nun at Kefel Hares.
- On December 1, 1995, after Rabin’s assassination, Bethlehem, with the exception of the enclave of the tomb, passed under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Rachel’s Tomb is now an outpost marking Jerusalem’s southern border. It has been massively fortified and Jews can only reach it in bulletproof vehicles under military supervision.
It didn’t take long for the writing to appear on the wall for Mother Rachel.In 2000, after hundreds of years of recognizing the site as Rachel’s Tomb, Muslims began calling it the “Bilal ibn Rabah mosque.” Members of the Wakf used the name first in 1996, but it has since entered the national Palestinian discourse. Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian known in Islamic history as a slave who served in the house of the prophet Muhammad as the first muezzin (the individual who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day).When Muhammad died, ibn Rabah went to fight the Muslim wars in Syria, was killed in 642 CE, and buried in either Aleppo or Damascus. The Palestinian Authority claimed that according to Islamic tradition, it was Muslim conquerors who named the mosque erected at Rachel’s Tomb after Bilal ibn Rabah.
The Palestinian claim ignored the fact that Ottoman firmans (mandates or decrees) gave Jews in the Land of Israel the right of access to the site at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Palestinian claim even ignored accepted Muslim tradition, which admires Rachel and recognizes the site as her burial place. According to tradition, the name “Rachel” comes from the word “wander,” because she died during one of her wanderings and was buried on the Bethlehem road. Her name is referred to in the Koran, and in other Muslim sources, Joseph is said to fall upon his mother Rachel’s grave and cry bitterly as the caravan of his captors passes by. For hundreds of years, Muslim holy men (walis) were buried in tombs whose form was the same as Rachel’s.
The Palestinians are targeting the Jewish sites in the holy land by saying that they were really Muslim sites. But don’t fret, because once they stake their claims on Jewish Heritage, Christian Heritage will be next. We must stop them now.