Palestinian leaders and their western supporters on the political Left are now re-interpreting biblical history amid a wider expansion of woke activism in the Middle East, critics say. The Palestinian Authority (PA), emboldened by some in Europe and United Nations bodies, are looking to dismantle Judeo-Christian ties to the Holy Land as they seek to invent a new narrative favoring their claims on the region, opponents of the campaign argue.
“The PA’s erasure of Jewish history combined with the inventing of a Palestinian history is used by the PA to define Israelis as ‘Zionist thieves,’ ‘usurpers,’ ‘foreigners,’ ‘invaders,’ ‘colonialists,’ in short people with no connection to the land who therefore must be defeated and expelled,” Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli-based organization researching Palestinian society, told Fox News.
Marcus points to the many historically inaccurate statements made by senior PA officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, who in a 2016 claimed during a televised speech on Palestinian TV that, “our narrative says that we were in this land since before Abraham. I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham. So why don’t you recognize my right?”
Mahmoud al-Habbash, the Palestinian Authority Supreme Shari’ah Judge and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Shari’ah Justice denied the claims in a statement to Fox News. “We are not trying to rewrite history, but we have the right to write our history according to our narrative in which we believe, just like the Israelis who write their history according to their narrative in which they believe. We have our own Religious and Historical narrative, and the Jews have their own Religious and Historical narrative,” he said.
Al-Habbash concluded, “The Israelis do not believe in our narrative, and we do not believe in their narrative, but this is not the problem, The problem in essence is political and lies In the Israeli occupation of our country. Our Conflict is not religious or about history, it is a political conflict embedded in the Occupation, when the occupation ends, there will be no conflict between us, nor religious or historical.”
Jerusalem has and continues to be the main flashpoint in the fight to erase history. Senior Palestinian leaders summarily dismiss Judaism’s holiest site, The Temple Mount, as an “alleged Temple.” Ze’ev Orenstein, director of International Affairs for the City of David, an archeological site for ancient Jerusalem, told Fox News, “There is no place in the world which holds more significance for more people than Jerusalem. Yet, today, both the U.N. and Palestinian leadership are seeking to erase the Jewish and Christian heritage of Jerusalem.”
“Every single day, archaeological excavations in the City of David – the place where Jerusalem began…are affirming not simply as a matter of faith, but as a matter of fact, the millennia-old connection of Jews and Christians to Jerusalem,” Orenstein added. “This includes the discovery of millennia-old inscriptions affirming biblical events; ancient seals with the names – in Hebrew – of figures straight out of the pages of the Bible, including that of the biblical King Hezekiah – direct descendant of King David from 2,700 years ago.”
Orenstein says that by visiting the City of David, people can witness this history “with their own eyes, touch with their own hands, and walk upon with their own feet.”
Yet, while the erasure campaign is especially charged around Jerusalem, Regavim, an Israeli nongovernmental organization, warns that the cradle of Jewish history has been under constant attack for years.
“The Palestinian Authority has undertaken a very carefully and purposefully orchestrated program of historical revisionism, in an attempt to blur and eventually erase the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel,” Naomi Kahn, Regavim’s international spokesperson, told Fox News. “Because Judea and Samaria are the cradle of Jewish history, these areas are quite naturally the focal points of this insidious campaign.”
She said, “The Palestinian Authority and its supporters have proven willing, even eager, to destroy the physical remains of thousands of years of Judeo-Christian culture in an attempt to make way for a fictitious quasi-historical narrative that supports their political agenda.”
Kahn said the Oslo Accord made it clear that the Palestinian Authority had to protect sites of Judeo-Christian significance and that the PA “was required to protect and enable free access – for worship, study, tourism and scientific exploration.” The “PA has completely disregarded these requirements,” she said.
Kahn gave these examples:
Photo credit Regavim
Sebastia is the name the Romans gave to Samaria and the capital city of the Northern Israelite Kingdom founded in the 9th century B.C. It is now an official Palestinian tourism site, but Regavim claims that visitors will hear no mention of its Jewish connection, including its being an independent Jewish kingdom of which Samaria was the seat of government.
In the same area, Regavim said there once stood a Byzantine structure purporting to be the burial place of St. John the Baptist’s head, but added that the structure has been destroyed and defaced. It now lies in ruins. Regavim says other cathedrals that were turned into mosques in Sebastia have been reinterpreted in PA tourism guides. Regavim said it had identified over 300 such sites “that have been looted, damaged or totally decimated or are in the process of being wiped out.”
Photo credit Regavim
Kahn concluded with a warning, “Like the massive destruction wreaked on cultural artifacts by ISIS, the destruction of sites throughout Judea and Samaria is a tragedy for the shared cultural and historical legacy of humankind, and civilized nations should not be complicit in this barbarism.”
A leading Christian scholar says the attack on Jewish history has consequences for Christians. Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt, director of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, told Fox News that “re-writing biblical history with an anti-Israel attempt ventures to set a potentially fatal blow to the Christian faith.”
Heldt, who is also a professor of history of the Churches in the Middle East at Jerusalem University College and works on mutual understanding between Christians and Jews in Israel, noted that Christian society today is “often on the brink of forgetting the Bible and the Christian tradition.” She added that “re-writing Biblical history (in particular by eliminating Israel), therefore, will lure nominal Christians into the realm of the deceiver affiliated with agendas of anti-Semitism, secularism, or other religions.”
The PA-controlled historic city of Hebron is another flashpoint. Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, said the city has served as an example of how the rewriting of the historical record has changed the historical narrative to favor the Palestinians. He noted that in 2017 UNESCO voted to put the Tomb of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian world heritage site that it said was under threat from the Israelis. That vote led the Trump administration to quit the U.N. body.
A spokesman from The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) told Fox News, “All decisions at the executive board, general conference and World Heritage committee are adopted by member states, not by UNESCO itself,” when referring to votes on Hebron and Jerusalem. The spokesman continued that, “UNESCO will keep on opposing any attempts of revision of history: heritage in its historic complexity should unite people, rather than divide them. This is UNESCO’s core objective.” The spokesman concluded, “Any accusation or comment about UNESCO being ‘anti-Israel’ is clearly inaccurate.”
Fleisher, speaking on Fox News’ chief religion correspondent Lauren Green’s “Lighthouse Faith” podcast, discussed the significance of Hebron to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Fleisher explained that Israel’s first capital was Hebron, and that Genesis describes Abraham making a land purchase to bury his beloved wife Sarah 3,800 years ago in Hebron.
He said Abraham was also laid to rest in the tomb with Sarah and following their passing so were his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, and their wives Rebecca and Leah. They were all buried inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriachs in Hebron, making it one of the holiest sites in Judaism. King Herod built a structure 2,000 years ago to mark the tombs and made it a mausoleum. Subsequently, the al-Haram al-Ibrahimi Mosque was built within the structure, and it still functions as an active mosque for Hebron’s majority Muslim community.
Fleisher sounded a warning on the consequences. “In lieu of defeating Israel on the battlefield, the jihad has initiated a war of delegitimization intended on erasing international support for Israel,” he said. “In essence it’s a massive smear campaign in which Israel’s ancient history in this land is systematically erased and replaced with an invented Palestinian narrative. The main target of this campaign are young westerners who are simply too ignorant to fight back with facts.”
Fleisher said he will continue to defend history from what he called “the jihadist replacement narrative. We will do everything to fight it and assert our historic rights in Judea and fight historical erasure.”
Ben Evansky reports for Fox News on the United Nations and international affairs.
He can be followed @BenEvansky