Friday, December 25, 2009
A report by the Iraqi news agency Urnews revives fears that the Iraqi Antiquities and Heritage Authority is under pressure from political parties to erase original Hebrew inscriptions and ornamentation on the walls around the tomb of Ezekiel under the pretext of restoring the site. (With thanks: Iraqijews)
It is four months since Point of No Return publicised a tip-off from a German-based Iraqi scholar to academics in Israel that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of the shrine of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl. The rumours were investigated by a philosemitic Iraqi Shi'a. They were denied by the shrine's director. Now a report by Urnews has triggered fears that in the absence of Jews on the ground, nothing - not even UNESCO - stands in the way of politically-motivated plans to erase all Jewish traces of this ancient holy site.
Here is an extract, paraphrased from the Google Arabic translation of the Uragency report:
The officials of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage say that their restoration programme will continue until 2011 and is designed to carry out essential maintenance and prevent the dome and roof from collapsing. But their hidden purpose, sources say, is the removal of features that emphasize a historical connection with the Jews who built the shrine and lived in the city for hundreds of years after the Babylonian exile.
According to the sources, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority is under pressure from Islamic political parties who insist on erasing all evidence of a Jewish connection. Drastic changes taking place currently on the site to change its character will prompt UNESCO to delete it as a protected site on the World Heritage List, similar to what happened to the historic city of Babylon, where old buildings were demolished and new layers of construction added.
Hebrew writings will be erased from the site and from the room that houses the shrine. Restoration work includes skimming the walls, 3 metres high in the yard, 2 metres high inside the shrine. Sources say that the media are not allowed to take pictures and visits to the shrine are limited to pilgrims.
The city of Kifl contains thousands of dunams of land belonging to the Jewish community before their displacement from Iraq in the last century. The majority of tenants' shops around the shrine still pay rent to their original Jewish owners through accredited mediators. The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel dates back to the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC.
Read original article in full (Arabic)
Arutz Sheva: Iraq plans to de-Judaise Ezekiel's tomb