UNESCO head backs Israel: Ignoring Jewish, Christian ties to Jerusalem harms its cultural status

UNESCO’s obligation to protect Jerusalem’s Old City is more important than ever, she said, particularly at a time when violence has harmed the multi-faith nature of the ancient site.

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July 16, 2016 23:15
3 minute read.
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

A view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Attempts by member states to erase Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Old City harms its cultural status as a site that is sacred to the three monotheistic religions, warned UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova on Friday.

“To deny or conceal any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription in 1981,” Bokova wrote in a message she posted on the organization’s website.

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She made the statement as Israel is in the midst of a pitched battle to prevent the World Heritage Committee’s 21-member states from passing a resolution on Jerusalem that references the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al-Haram/Al-Sharif.

The World Heritage Committee is likely to vote on a Jerusalem resolution on Sunday, when it wraps up its 40th session which began on July 10 in Istanbul. The session had been expected to last until July 20th, but the failed coup over the weekend forced the committee to cut its agenda short.

On note it posted on its website it noted that, “The agenda of tomorrow’s meeting will be restricted to a limited number of items. The 40th session willed on Sunday evening after these items are examined.”

The resolution had been initially submitted by Jordan and Palestine as part of the bureaucratic process by which the World Heritage Committee reaffirmed the placement of Jerusalem and its Old City Walls on its list of endangered sites called World Heritage in Danger.

Palestine has been a recognized member state of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization since 2011. It can therefor submit resolutions, such as the Jerusalem text, to UNESCO bodies such as the World Heritage Committee.

In response to the Palestinian and Jordanian draft, the European Union, attempted to draw up a compromise text. But according to Israel, that new text was not any better than the original one.

On Friday Bokova stood with Israel against the drive to rewrite Jewish history in Jerusalem’s Old City, although she did not specifically reference the Temple Mount in her text.

In a message posted on the UNESCO website, she said that Jerusalem’s Old City, “is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”


Bokova further charged that actions to deny the Jewish and Christian connection to the site, undermined its status as a Word Heritage site.

Some 35 years later after Jerusalem Old City was inscribed at Jordan’s request as a World Heritage site, she added, “the role and commitment of the World Heritage Committee is precisely to uphold the spirit of this historic decision.”

UNESCO’s obligation to protect Jerusalem’s Old City is more important than ever, she said, particularly at a time when violence has harmed the multi-faith nature of the ancient site.

“I am concerned about the way physical violence is being associated with symbolic violence, as well as the will to erase history and instrumentalize culture.

“When these divisions carry over onto UNESCO,  an Organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, it prevents us from carrying out our mission,” Bokova said.

Last October the Palestinian government began a UNESCO campaign to reclassify the Temple Mount, which is Judaism’s holiest site, but failed to garner enough support for a resolution that would have formally declared the area as an exclusively Muslim shrine.

That did not prevent a linguistic shift when it came to its UNESCO resolutions on Jerusalem, such that it is now only described as Muslim site in such documents.

When UNESCO’s 58-member Executive Board met in Paris in April it adopted a resolution that spoke solely of Muslim ties to the Temple Mount. At the time, Bokova, also objected and spoke out against the politicization of UNESCO.

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