Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem

Bethlehem – Ma’an – Dozens of armored buses brought hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jewish worshippers to pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Tour buses lined the streets on the western side of the seperation wall, and roads were blocked off from Tantur to the Beit Jala (Gilo) checkpoint as hundreds of worshipers in black coats and hats gathered in the area.

The mass prayer gatherings were organized by the Mosdos Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb Institute) around the date believed to be the anniversary of Rachel’s death. The official date set by the group is 9 November, but worshipers overwhelmed the area on Saturday evening as well.

The Institute runs a Jewish religious school at the tomb, and funds a daily bullet-proof bus service that brings Jewish worshippers from Jerusalem to the tomb.

In 2003 the group lobbied the Israeli Supreme Court to have the route of the separation wall altered so that the site of Rachel’s Tomb was annexed to the western side of the wall. The petition was successful and the new route of the separation wall cut large swaths out of the Bethlehem municipal lands, ensuring Israelis access to the Tomb.

The biblical Rachel is revered as one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people, and Jewish tradition holds that she was buried by her husband Jacob in Bethlehem. The tomb is also a holy site for Muslims and Christians, and the location of the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque, which is now inaccessible to West Bank Palestinians.

Many of the area’s residents have moved to other parts of Bethlehem since Israel’s construction of the wall, and many buildings in the once vibrant neighborhood at the entrance to Bethlehem now stand empty.

Ten meter concrete walls surround Rachel’s Tomb on three sides. The walls are part of the separation wall constructed by Israel after the start of the second Indifadah. There are also sniper towers built into the wall at short intervals.

Groups such as the Rachel’s Tomb Institute and the Committee for Rachel’s Tomb, which do not recognize Palestinian claims to the site or the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a legitimate government, aim to establish a permanent, round-the-clock Jewish presence at the site to ensure that it remains under Israeli control in any future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

As the website of the Committee for Rachel’s Tomb explains, by maintaining a Jewish presence at the site, they aim to “put pressure on the Israeli government to maintain Jewish control over Rachel’s Tomb.”

Ref: Maan

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