Why Palestinians Riot Over Jewish Heritage Sites

The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Israel.


Last week saw an upsurge in Palestinian riots and attacks against Israeli vehicles in Gaza and the West Bank. What crime did Israel commit to invite the wave of violence? Israel’s government simply announced that it intended to honor the country’s heritage by including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem in a list of Israeli national “heritage” sites.

The violence-fueled Palestinian reaction may seem entirely disproportionate to Israel’s offense. But a look at the historical background shows that it is not without grim precedent.

For several decades, Palestinians have been attacking Jewish worshipers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem, and the Tomb of Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Machpelah, in Hebron. After the Oslo and Hebron Agreements in the 1990′s, attacks intensified.

To protect visitors to Rachel’s Tomb, a fortified building was built around the tiny, 19th century building that had been built over the tomb. That wasn’t enough, since getting to the building from the closest Israeli checkpoint, a few hundred meters away, exposed Jews to sniper fire and bombs from adjacent buildings along the road. A new road was built, therefore, surrounded by high cement walls.

Palestinian riots against the rights of Jews to visit holy and historic sites are nothing new. In Jericho and Gaza,  ancient Jewish synagogues from the Talmudic period have been destroyed and are off limits to Jews.

In Shechem, Nablus , the site of Joseph’s Tomb, was attacked by Palestinian mobs in 2000, fire-bombed and destroyed. A wounded Israeli soldier inside bled to death while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, negotiated with the Palestinian Authority.

On the Temple Mount , the Palestinians have been systematically destroying Jewish artifacts and antiquities from the Second Temple period.

Why is attacking and destroying Jewish heritage sites so popular among Palestinians?

Arabs claim their own heritage sites. Their claims go back about 1,300 years, when the Al-Aksa mosque and golden Dome of the Rock were built on the Temple Mount. These buildings exist today under Muslim authority (Wakf); Jews are prohibited by Israeli police from praying, carrying holy books, or ritual objects on the Temple Mount, in deference to Muslim restrictions.

During the Muslim occupation of Israel, with the exception of about two centuries of Christian Crusader occupation, various public buildings, palaces, mosques and bridges were built. Remains of Crusader fortresses are popular tourist sites, along with Nabatean (pagan) sites in the Negev, many of which are UNESCO-designated.

All are part of the history and heritage of the Land of Israel. Except for their buildings on the Temple Mount, however, Muslims do not consider the Land of Israel, Judea and Samaria, Palestine, sacred in any way. During most of the Muslim occupation, these sites were neglected because they held little significance. The main focus, for Muslims, was Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia. Muslims do not make aliyah to Palestine.

Christians and Muslims venerated holy sites in the Land of Israel, Palestine, but after visiting, or conquering, they went home. Their heritage was local, tribal, and familial. The Land of Israel was not part of their heritage. It was a heritage for Jews.

This explains why Palestinians are opposed to the designation of Jewish heritage sites. If it is important to Jews, what does that mean for Muslims? Indeed, what is their heritage?

Heritage is a legacy that connects generations; it’s not politics, but history. For Palestinians, however, the two are entangled – which chokes off rationality.

It’s not the Muslim significance of historical sites that inspires Palestinian riots; it’s that Jews claim it at all. Equal access to historical and holy sites is considered an affront by Muslims, as it questions their exclusivity and authenticity.

Under Muslim rule, for example, Jews were denied entrance to Machpelah, since, if Muslims don’t have exclusive control of the site, then no one else should, or will. Any attachment of Jews diminishes that of Muslims.

This deadly Arab zero-sum game is exacerbated by President Obama, whose opposition to the right of Jews to live beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines fueled Palestinian riots in eastern Jerusalem. Recently, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said “the administration viewed Israel ‘s move as provocative and unhelpful.”  He did not deplore Palestinian riots.

If you agree with President Obama and Mark Toner, no need to do anything. If you disagree, however, let your voices be heard. Silence is acquiescence.

The author is a writer and journalist living in Israel.

  • poptoy

    Does not take much HUH?

  • ViewPoint

    In the 5 years the Palestinians have had Gaza, crime against women has risen 77%. This is Palestinian abusers, rapists, murderers etc. committing every horrendous crime against their own women. So, what chance do the Israeli Jews have?
    It is written in Genesis that the descendents of Abraham's surrogate son Ishmael (Arabs) will be many, wild, and make war with everyone. Who could have guessed, “everyone,” also included their own people?

  • PAthena

    The Arabs who call themselves "Palestinians" invent a phony history and oppose every claim of Jews in Eretz Yisroel. The name of "Palestine" was given to Judea by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D. after he defeated the last of the Jewish rebellions under Bar Kochba. "Palestine" then became synonomous with "land of the Jews" or "the Holy Land" and "Palestinian" synonymous with "Jew." That is why the Zionists wanted the "Palestine Mandate" and Britain was awarded the "Palestine Mandate" after World War I as "homeland for the Jews." Calling the Arabs "Palestinians" is the consequence of Soviet propaganda, the Soviet Union and Nasser have invented the "Palestine Liberation Organization" in Cairo in 1964. The Arab attacks on Israel for even naming the ancient, well-known Jewish heritage sites – and the EU and President Obama criticizing Israel instead of the attackers – shows how deep is the hatred of Jews, denying history.

  • Guest

    The Israeli tactic of spreading lies is what to blame. How come you claim to know that Al Aqsa mosque is not important to Muslims when it is mentioned in the Quran? Israel fabricates history to claim more lands. Jews do pray in the temple mount and they do enter the Muslim sites, while Palestinians are not allowed to mostt of the time. This shows that Israelis don't really want peace at all.

    • Raymond in DC

      There's no explicit reference to Jerusalem in the Quran, and the Al Aqsa mosque didn't exist at the time of Mohammed's death. It went up only decades later. The "farther mosque" reference no doubt refers to another mosque then existing elsewhere in the Arabian peninsula. The linking of that "farther mosque" to the previously non-existent mosque in Jerusalem was pure revisionism by later interpreters.

  • Carole

    I just want to echo what`s been said here already!
    I don`t think there will ever be peace in Israel until the Lord Jesus returns to set up His kingdom here on Earth, ruling from Jerusalem as in the prophetic words of Revelation in God`s word, the Bible.
    The muslims will then realize what a sham Islam is and end their war against Christians, Jews and unbelievers of their religion!
    Sadly, many will lose their lives as they come up and war against the Jews!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/eerieSteve eerieSteve

    A black hand must surely be behind this riot. I would look to Iran and the mullahs. Maybe Egypt. Probably to a lesser extent Syria.

    People who were once fed but now are hungry riot, yet remember, there was no riot in Dachau.

    Read Thomas Dye and Dusty Zygler's interpretation of the race riots in this book and you will understand what I mean:

    http://www.amazon.com/Irony-Democracy-Uncommon-In

  • Marty

    Violence is what islam is all about. muslims have been at war with western civilization for 1400 years. They see no reason to stop murdering people until or unless a global caliphate is established and non-muslims who survive are reduced to dhimmi status. muslims cannot accept peace or democracy; doing so would violate their quran and sharia law. We all need to understand that we are in a conflict with a death cult.

  • Elmer Fudd

    W., 03/03/10 common era

    I read that in 1929, longtime Arab-Moslem friends and neighbors of Jews in Hebron suddenly turned on them, murdering Jewish men, women, and children. Isn't it strange that there was no "Israeli occupation of the West Bank" back then? Jews didn't have a presence on The Temple Mount back then. Jews didn't control the Golan Heights back then. So why pogroms back then?

    Rabbi Meier Kahane was correct all along. A 2-State Final Solution 2 would be the practical result of a Palestian Arab state next to Israel. G-d promised Eretz Israel to Abraham and to his seed forever. Such words greatly disturb limousine liberals, both Gentile and Jewish. Israel is destined to become a Torah state; make no mistake about that.

  • Curt

    The Israelis should line up the bulldozers and simply shovel their sworn enemies onto the West Bank and into Egypt then build about a fifty foot concrete wall all the way around complete with automated machine gun turrets to keep the savages at bay. Problem solved!

  • USMCSniper

    Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war. Muslims are vermin like the Orcs of Middle Earth. Kill 'em all, wrap them in their prayer rugs, put 'em all in piles and burn 'em and let Allah sort 'em out. Allah will love us for this because we will keep heaven supplied with lots and lots of fresh raghead souls. And,…. there is nothing like smell of a pile of burning ragheads in the early morning – that is the smell of victory in the air!

    OOoooooorahhhh!!!

  • Tom W.

    Part 1

    Now I’m writing to correct a gross libellous wrong that the Muslims have lied to themselves and the political left who support their lies about the Cave of Patriarchs (aka: Cave of Machpelah) and Rachel’s Tomb, these religious sites have absolutely nothing to do with the Muslims!

    First some factual ancient family background, in the biblical days, a wife who might have had trouble conceiving children and/or wanted to have more children than she was physically capable of giving birth to, often had her handmaid sleep with her husband. If the handmaid conceived a child or children, these offspring were legally the possession of the wife! So if Gretchen (the wife) had 2 boys and her handmaid, Julie conceived 2 girls, Julie’s two girls would legally be Gretchen’s children. Even though the community knew that Julie gave birth to these 2 girls, everyone in that tribe would recognize these two girls as Gretchen’s kids!

  • Tom W.

    Part 2

    Now when Sarah, Abraham’s wife thought she was barren, she told her Egyptian handmaid Hagar to sleep with Abraham. Hagar conceived a boy whose named was Ishmael but already we the readers of the bible know there’s some unnatural tension brewing because in Genesis 16:12 it says the following about Ishmael: “And he shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him: and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren.” I mean that pretty much foreshadows that Sarah is going to reject this kid!

  • Tom W.

    Part 3
    And when God told Abraham that Sarah was going to soon conceive a child, Sarah laughed with joy. And later on in life, as the 2 boys grew up, Sarah got so fed up with the way Ishmael was making fun of Isaac (son born by Sarah) that she told Abraham to banish both Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21: 8-10). And Abraham did send Hagar and her son out from his camp because he respected his wife, now jumping forward to Isaac, he married Rebekah. Once again family relations based on a favourite son plays a hand in destiny, although Rebekah personally gave birth to 2 sons, Esau and Jacob; Rebekah favoured Jacob.

  • Tom W.

    Part 4
    Rebekah aided Jacob in making a goat meal and dressed him up in Esau’s clothes (Isaac’s eyesight was poor now that he was an old man). In the end Jacob ended up getting the following blessing from his father: “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be Lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be everyone that blessed thee.” That is in Genesis 27:29 and when Esau came inside from working in the field, Isaac blessed him in Genesis 27:40 with: “And by they sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt break loose, that thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck.”

  • Tom W.

    Part5
    Now if you didn’t know already Ishmael and Esau’s children intermarried to make super enemies of Jacob (who later became Israel, see Genesis 32: 28-29) and his children as seen in Genesis 36:1-7. And the biblical reference that proves that Israel and Ishmael can’t live in the same land is in the beginning of verse 7: “For the substance was too great for them to dwell together.” For all those who don’t know, Jacob had 12 sons (i.e. the 12 tribes of Israel) and 1 daughter through 2 wives and 2 handmaidens. Wife #1, Leah bore sons Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and daughter Dinah. Her handmaiden Zilpah gave birth to sons Gad and Asher. While wife #2 (who is also the sister of Leah) Rachel bore sons Joseph and Benjamin and her handmaid, Bilah gave birth to sons Dan and Naphtali.

  • Tom W.

    Part 6
    So now that you understand the family, if you read Genesis chapter 23, you find out that Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah from Ephron for the sum of 400 silver shekels. At the end of this chapter Abraham buries Sarah in the cave of Machpelah. Thus this cave is to honour Sarah first and foremost, this is the same wife that wanted nothing to do with Ishmael! The only thing that links Ishmael to the cave of Machpelah is in Genesis 25: 7-10 when both he and Isaac co-operated to bury their dead father—that’s it! After this, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are laid to rest in the cave of Machpelah; however when it comes to Jacob only he and Leah are buried in the cave of Machpelah, Rachel is buried is a separate location (i.e. Rachel’s Tomb).

  • Tom W.

    Part 7
    So now you understand that neither the family line of Ishmael nor of Esau are buried in the cave of Machpelah! This cave is first and foremost to honour Sarah and along with her are her husband and her beloved son and his wife and her grandson and his first wife. The only thing that Ishmael has ever done in relationship to the cave of Machpelah is help bury his father with his half-brother, Isaac and that’s all! So if anything Ishmaelites have visitor privileges to visit Abraham and in terms of Esauities, they wouldn’t want anything to do with this cave because it houses Jacob, who they loathe intensely as well as their hated mother Rebekah. And in terms of wanting to visit their Isaac, there’s no reference in the bible that Esau wanted to have anything to do with his father after Jacob was first blessed by their father.

  • Tom W.

    Part 8
    And in terms of Rachel’s Tomb, there’s absolutely no family connection of either Ishmael nor Esau wanting to have anything to do with Jacob’s family. Once again Rachel gave birth to 2 Israelites, Joseph and Benjamin neither who according to the bible sought any family connection to their non-Israelite half siblings! So according to the bible, the only reason why the Arabs (whose family roots start with the merging of Ishmael and Esau) would want authority over the cave of Machpelah and Rachel’s Tomb is a combination of the worst of both worlds: that they are wild asses whose hands are against Israel as well as constantly trying to live by they sword in order to try to shake off Israel’s blessing over them! Either way as the bible says, the substance of Esau’s difference with that of his brother Israel is too great for them to live together in the same land!

  • Tom W.

    Part 9
    Therefore, it’s time for the Ishmaelites and Esauities to return to Egypt and the surrounding lands of Canaan, while the Israelites live in Canaan among their personal holy sites that only belong to their side of the family. The only thing the Ishmaelites can legally have is the right to visit the grave of their only ancestor in Canaan and that’s Abraham! He purchased the cave of Machpelah in his wife’s honour, that is Sarah, the same women who wanted nothing to do with Ishmael! Thus the cave of Machpelah is for her side of the family to possess, it’s her son and grandson who are with her not Ishmael nor Esau, therefore the Arabs have no claim of ownership to either the cave of Machpelah or Rachel’s Tomb!

    Got it Muslims?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Dar_al_Harb LibertyLover

    Tom W – Thank you for the Bible History lesson. Excellent posts.

  • leigh

    From Guest: "How come you claim to know that Al Aqsa mosque is not important to Muslims when it is mentioned in the Quran?
    "
    It is not mentioned in the Quran- it was not built when the Quran was written Are you merely ignorant or deceitful?
    Or worse fro Muslims' belief was the Quran changed aftter the mosque was built to include Mohammad's fanciful story.!!!!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

    It's just 'palestinians' showing for the millionth time they aren't fit to govern anything, much less Jewish and Christian holy sites. They're making sure they eventually have to be shown the door.

  • Courtnye’

    so Tom,,,we can blame this whole mess on Sarah, for minding God’s BIZNESS!! I been saying that for atleast 20 years!! if only she had believed what she heard when she was eavesdropping from behind that curtain. when will His children learn to believe?
    I find that the more i read the Old Testament (over and over again) the more I realize how much he truly loves His children. He is just, but filled with so much love, and all he wants is His children to honor Him and love Him, not to put anything before Him. So simple?