(photo credit: Michel Zlotowski)
UNESCO commemorated the 10th anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin on Monday in the presence of representatives of Arab countries. The ambassador of Iraq, acting president of the group of Arab countries at UNESCO, attended the ceremony.
UNESCO Director-General Kohichiro Matsuura said he was "honoring the memory of a righteous man who was assassinated while pursuing an untiring dream of peace and fraternity in the Middle East... The path of hope started by Yitzhak Rabin compels us all. We must be the worthy spokespersons of a future promise.
"The words Yitzhak Rabin said here at UNESCO are still in our memories. 'Peace will settle in slowly, in everyday life, in small gestures, in trivial details. It will be built step by step through the actions of men and women.' In my name and in the name of the organization, I solemnly pledge to turn this promise into reality."
Matsuura was speaking in front of a small crowd of ambassadors to UNESCO, representatives of the French Jewish community and Israeli artist Dani Karavan, who designed what was to be UNESCO's Square of Tolerance and is now called the Yitzhak Rabin Square.
"The presence of the ambassador of Iraq indicates that the atmosphere in UNESCO around Israel has greatly improved," Matsuura told The Jerusalem Post. "There is now a collaboration between Israel and the Arab countries."
"I am very proud to say now we have established the practice of adopting important resolutions at the executive board and at the general conference by consensus," he said. "This is the only United Nations agency where such a practice has been established. Very unfortunately, in other organizations, this is not the case, and many resolutions concerning the Middle East are adopted in spite of the strong opposition of the United States and of Israel, with lots of abstention.
"At UNESCO, we now adopted two important resolutions at the last general conference held in October, one about the reconstruction of educational and cultural institutions in the occupied Arab territories, mainly in Palestine but also in other Arab territories. The second resolution adopted was on the preservation of Jerusalem's Old City.
"To adopt such resolution by consensus was not an easy process, frankly speaking, but all members states were engaged, seriously negotiated and finally produced a consensus," Matsuura said. "That indicates an improvement of the political atmosphere at UNESCO with regards to the Middle East and also an improvement of the collaboration between Israel and the Arab countries."
About the unmonitored digs by the Wakf on the Temple Mount, Matsuura said he was not aware of this, but that he had sent a mission to the Old City last September. "We are charged by the general conference and by the executive board to come out with an action plan to safeguard the original values of buildings, houses and monuments of the Old City," he said.
"Israel is a new party to UNESCO's 1973 Convention on World Heritage. Israel has now five sites on this list, including Masada, which I visited many years ago as a tourist. Masada was the first site of Israel to become part of the World Heritage list. On UNESCO's tentative list of World Heritage sites, Israel has now 23 locations."