Politics: Hebron/Al-Khalil, Palestine

Here’s our second backgrounder on political controversy swirling around this year’s 21 New #WorldHeritage Sites! and this one, welllll…

Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town

The use of a local limestone shaped the construction of the old town of Hebron / Al-Khalil during the Mamluk period between 1250 and 1517. The centre of interest of the town was the site of Al mosque -Ibrahim / the tomb of the Patriarchs whose buildings are in a compound built in the 1st century CE to protect the tombs of the patriarch Abraham / Ibrahim and his family. This place became a site of pilgrimage for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The town was sited at the crossroads of trade routes for caravans travelling between southern Palestine, Sinai, Eastern Jordan, and the north of the Arabian Peninsula. Although the subsequent Ottoman Period (1517-1917) heralded an extension of the town to the surrounding areas and brought numerous architectural additions, particularly the raising of the roof level of houses to provide more upper stories, the overall Mamluk morphology of the town is seen to have persisted with its hierarchy of areas, quarters based on ethnic, religious or professional groupings, and houses with groups of rooms organized according to a tree-shaped system.

… yeah, you know that one’s going to be …. contentious.

Palestine is a “non-member observer state” of the United Nations General Assembly, but it’s recognized as sovereign by 136 nations — and more importantly for purposes of this particular site, was admitted to UNESCO in 1989.

So while you could argue your life away over the “correct” disposition of Mandatory Palestine, for purposes of this site we’re simply going take the position that we abide by UNESCO’s decisions.

There are people who find that a bit of a strain:

Israel slashes millions from UN budget to finance Jewish museums after Hebron declared world heritage site

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has reduced the United Nations (UN) membership fees that his country contributes by $10m (£7.75m).

His decision comes after the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to list the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site – a move that prompted anger in Israel.

As a result the country will now pay will pay $1.7m (£1.3m) to the UN out of a planned commitment of $11.7m (£9.07m) , according to the Times of Israel

If you really want, you can go read through the shouting from both sides … but y’know, we’d recommend you go do something more positive with your day. You see above that it’s sacred to Abraham, and that means there just isn’t going to be an answer to the question of sovereignity that makes everyone happy short of making it some kind of transnational territory.

Personally, we visited this site during a relatively tense time of the First Intifada way back before the internet and iPhones and all, so we don’t have a picture of our own handy to show you; but here’s one we found on Flickr that gives a good sense of the place:

Hebron rooftops

All these politics aside, the Cave of the Patriarchs is a pretty foundational place of our civilization, and we do recommend you visit it and form your own opinions on this controversy!


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