JERUSALEM, Israel -- An Israeli official says that the admission of Palestinians as a member state of UNESCO has emboldened them to claim Judeo-Christian biblical sites as their own.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization admitted the Palestinians as a member state Nov. 1.
One of those sites is the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Four thousand years ago, the Bible says Abraham bought the cave in Hebron to bury his wife Sarah. Isaac, Jacob and their wives are also buried there.
But Palestinians want UNESCO to recognize the Cave of the Patriarchs and other sites as Muslim holy places in "Palestine."
Israeli government minister Yuli Edelstein said the Palestinian request is not about peace.
"Their demand is not about cooperation. Their demand is a political demand to wipe off all the traces of the Jewish history and Jewish connection to the region," Edelstein said.
The cave is currently divided between a mosque and a synagogue so each faith has a place to pray.
Israel was highly criticized when it announced plans to improve the site last year and include it as an Israeli heritage site.
The head of the Islamic authorities in Hebron said at the time that the site is holy only to Muslims.
"It is a pure Muslim holy place and there is no right for non-Muslims to be here or to pray here, and I'm against the presence of the Jews, even in the old city," Haj Zeid al Ja'bari, general director of Islamic Religious Authorities in Hebron, told reporters then.
Even before UNESCO admitted what it calls Palestine as a full member this month, it had already called the Cave and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem "Palestinian sites."
The Palestinian Authority now also wants the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to be deemed a Palestinian site. The church is built over the site many believe to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Palestinians are also threatening to sue Israel for what they say is stealing Palestinian antiquities and attempting to change what they call the Islamic and Arabic character of Jerusalem's Old City.
Israelis say Jews and Christians alike should be concerned. Based on past experience, they won't likely be able to visit the site in Hebron if it comes under Muslim Palestinian control.
"We know for a fact that when the authorities were not Israeli authorities, Jews were not allowed even to be here," Edelstein said.
"The concept of an Islamic holy place is that no one else is allowed to be here," said David Bedein, bureau chief, Israel Resource News Agency.
"The concept of a Jewish holy place is exactly the opposite," he said. "When there's a Jewish holy place, everyone can visit."
Bedein said that in 1975, Israel's then-ambassador to the U.N. Chaim Herzog answered an Arab challenge to Israel's rights to the Cave by using the Bible to make his case.
"He opened up the Bible to Genesis 23 and said, 'This is our right. We purchased it.'"
"It's ours and we're going to live here," he continued. "We're going to pray here and we're going to invite all the nations of the world to pray with us here.'"
--Published Nov. 18, 2011.