Exposé: Stealing Rachel’s Tomb

Using deceit, the Palestinians over the past several years have succeeded in convincing UNESCO that Rachel’s Tomb is actually a mosque built to commemorate the Prophet Mohammed’s first muezzin.

Historical documentation & hundreds of thousands of Jews who remain loyal to Rachel’s Tomb continue to hinder the Palestinian’s attempt into turning it into a Muslim site.

By Nadav Shragai


It is doubtful whether any other place between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River illustrates the concept of self-defense that has trickled into Israel’s security mindset as well as Rachel’s Tomb. The formerly picturesque site is engraved in the memory of many people as a stone building with a dome on top and an ancient olive tree in front of it, on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron.

The history of Rachel’s Tomb is under attack by Palestinians. – Photo: Keverrachel website

Although Rachel’s Tomb has been depicted that way in countless art works, stamps and holy books, not a shred of that nostalgic image remains today. Israel’s defense establishment wiped it out, wrapping the ancient site in a robe of concrete and cement.

This tiny Israeli enclave, on the seamline between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, is one of the “fruits” of the Oslo Accords. Visited by hundreds of thousands of Jews every year, it is surrounded by a series of fortifications, guard towers, military posts, firing positions built into the wall and barbed wire that would do an IDF outpost on the Hermon mountain range proud. The road to Rachel’s Tomb winds between two armed concrete walls. The anniversary of the matriarch Rachel’s death occurred last Saturday, and the traditional pilgrimage to her tomb took place the following Sunday.

Anyone visiting Rachel’s Tomb after not being there for many years is in for a shock. That was what happened to MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich, who recalled the picturesque Rachel’s Tomb of long ago and choked up with tears of humiliation and grief when she saw the way it is today. Eli Mohar, a poet from Tel Aviv, also called to “liberate Rachel from captivity” several years before his death, and even Haim Hanegbi, a dedicated leftist, lamented that the tomb seemed “uprooted from the landscape and stolen from the country.”

Photo of Rachel’s Tomb, circa 1870

But now it seems that the Palestinians who threatened and attacked Rachel’s Tomb and those who visited it, and worked for its disappearance from the landscape and its transformation into a military compound, are not satisfied with that. Now they want to uproot the site, which Jews have been visiting for 1700 years, not only from the landscape but also from history.

During the second Intifada, they fired on Rachel’s Tomb, threw stones and firebombs at it and succeeded in disrupting Jewish traffic bound for it. IDF soldiers were killed in battles that took place around the tomb. From time to time — for example, two weeks ago — there have been incidents of stone-throwing from the roofs of homes and the higher floors of buildings in Bethlehem that overlook the armed compound. Now the focus of the battle has shifted: to people’s awareness.

The Palestinians no longer call Rachel’s Tomb “the dome of Rachel,” as they did for centuries. Now they call it the mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah. UNESCO’s decision to define Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque is one of the results of this battle for awareness. The Palestinian Authority’s textbooks, which referred to Rachel’s Tomb by its historical name 10 to 15 years ago, have changed. The Muslim connection to the tomb, which stemmed from its association with the biblical Rachel, has been replaced by a vague, unclear connection to Bilal ibn Rabah, Mohammed’s first muezzin.

Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, of Ethiopian origin, is mentioned in Islam’s history as a black slave who served in the Prophet Mohammed’s household as his first muezzin. It was his job to call the Muslims to prayer five times a day. When Mohammed died, ibn Rabah went out to fight for Islam in Syria. He was killed in the twentieth year of the Hejira (642 CE).

Palestinian Authority officials are now inventing a new claim that according to Muslim tradition, the Muslim conquerors of the Land of Israel were the ones who named the mosque built at Rachel’s Tomb for ibn Rabah — and because of that, the Palestinians have the right to enter the compound and worship there whenever they wish.

Full disclosure: Seven years ago, I published a book about Rachel and her tomb (“At the Crossroads: The Story of Rachel’s Tomb”). Recently, I compiled and wrote a supplementary study for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that proves that there never was a mosque at Rachel’s Tomb. The facts are simple: contrary to what is claimed today, the Muslim connection to the site stems from the figure of Rachel and not that of ibn Rabah, who is buried in Damascus according to one account, and in Badr, near Amman, in another.

The ruins of an ancient mosque at the summit of Mount Kabir, near Elon Moreh in Samaria, are also named for ibn Rabah.