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Friday, February 01, 2013

PLO's new attempt to use UNESCO to co-opt Jewish history

This Ma'an report leaves some information out:
Palestinian experts are putting the final touches on Palestine's 2013 submission to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which will propose the ancient Bethlehem village of Battir as a heritage site.

The proposal, which outlines historical, natural, and cultural features of the hillside village, will be submitted by mid-February, the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs official working on UNESCO, Omar Awadallah, told Ma'an.

The committee will vote on whether Battir takes World Heritage status at the June general conference, he said. A Palestinian official delegation will attend the conference.

Battir village, with a population of about 4,500, uses an ancient system of irrigation that has provided fresh water to the community for centuries.
Battir, Battir, sounds so familiar. Oh yes - because its real name is Betar, the last Jewish stronghold in the Bar Kochba revolt.

Archaeologist David Ussishkin points out:
Iron I-II pottery was found in previous surveys. Some Iron IIB-C pottery was found in the fills supporting the wall, including a storage jar handle bearing a two-winged lmlk seal impression. Pottery from the Persian, Hellenistic and Early Roman periods was found in previous surveys, and several Hellenistic coins were recovered in the excavations. It thus appears that Betar was continuously settled since Iron I till the Roman period and that a settlement of some importance existed here during the later part of the Judean Monarchy.

Significantly, wall segments built of ashlars, one of them with ashlars dressed in characteristic Roman-Herodian style, were incorporated in the later fortifications. These remains and the pottery indicate that a settlement of some significance existed here prior to the Second Revolt.

As Diane Muir Appelbaum noted in a post I linked to last year, "the Jewish liberation fighters hastily threw up crude stone fortification walls, incorporating parts of the walls and buildings of the Jewish village."

Elli Fischer in TOI adds:
Jewish memory – as preserved in the Talmudim and Midrashim – recalls Betar as a catastrophe of massive proportion whose implications for the future of Judaism exceeded even that of the destruction of the Temples. The rabbis viewed the fall of Betar, not the Temple, as worthy of adding a blessing to the Grace after Meals – a blessing that sought God in the minor miracles of an exilic existence and not in the divine flourishes of an integral Jewish civilization.

In fact, the Talmud offers an alternative explanation for the fertility of Battir: “For seven years [after the fall of Betar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

So Battir and its environs are certainly worthy of being marked as a significant site with Jewish as well as world culture. No doubt the ancient terraces are worth preserving. Yet if these hills are to be recognized as a World Heritage Site, they must be acknowledged, first and foremost, for its significance to Jewish history.
Maybe there really are some ancient Arab villages or sites in the boundaries of British Mandate Palestine that deserve UNESCO recognition, but for some reason the ones being nominated by the PLO are always ancient Jewish sites of significance - and they ignore the Jewish component.

As we have seen before, the PLO's strategy of joining UNESCO has nothing to do with culture or education. It is meant to do no less than to co-opt, and delegitimize, the history of Jewish people.