Comment: UNESCO’s failed history test

The UNESCO resolution is a modern pogrom against the Jewish people’s connection to its historic homeland.

AN AERIAL view of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AERIAL view of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
UNESCO voted last Thursday to ignore thousands of years of Jewish history in Jerusalem, passing a resolution brazenly entitled “Occupied Palestine.” The resolution reflects the general anti-Israel bias that pervades many of the UN’s decisions.
The passing of the resolution comes at an ironic time as this week the Jewish people celebrate Succot – the Feast of Tabernacles. Succot is one of three pilgrimage festivals where the Jewish people were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The biblical book of Zechariah prophesies: “ shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”
During Succot this week members of parliament from many of the nations that voted on the UNESCO resolution – Sweden, South Africa, Brazil, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Spain and others – will come up to Jerusalem for the Israel Allies Foundation’s Chairman’s Conference. Annually held in Israel’s capital city, its location and its international participants send a message that the world cannot ignore. When the UN and its bodies fail to recognize the Jewish connection, and by extension Christian heritage as well, to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, there is an international network of world leaders – from the US to Europe, from Latin America to Africa and down under to Australia – who refuse to “abstain” from engaging or succumb to political convenience.
In a preemptive measure urging opposition to the resolution before the vote, members from the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus in the US House of Representatives together with their colleagues in the Senate issued a bipartisan letter to UNESCO condemning “a resolution that would diminish the historic and verified Jewish and Christian ties to the Old City of Jerusalem in an effort to delegitimize Israel.”
UNESCO is not just responsible for protecting these heritage sites, but for ensuring the preservation of their historical integrity as well, lest humanity’s past become subjected to the current political and religious agenda of a few.
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova released a statement last Thursday as well; the exact same statement was also released by outgoing UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon: “The Al Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit – or Temple Mount – whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”
Even in their criticism of the resolution, they failed to rightly identify that the Western Wall is not the holiest site in Judaism, but rather the Temple Mount itself, where Solomon’s Temple once stood. It’s as if the Jewish people randomly built a wall to pray at thousands of years ago and the 36-acre platform above it did not hold meaning until a mosque, centuries later, was built there.
The resolution does not end with Jerusalem – it goes on state how Israel refuses to remove two “Palestinian sites” – The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem – from its national heritage list.
The tomb of the matriarch Rachel, who is not mentioned by name in the Koran, is buried at the northern entrance of Bethlehem – the ancient city of King David. Bethlehem, the city where, despite Yasser Arafat’s wildly successful propaganda to the contrary, a Jewish Jesus was born to Jewish parents.
Representatives of UNESCO’s executive board sit back and condemn the audacity of the Jewish claim to Abraham’s burial place as their heritage – the very man and his descendants that God deeded the Land of Israel to. Abraham purchased the cave that is today the “Tomb of the Patriarchs” some 3,700 years ago at full market value to bury his wife, Sarah. Hebron is not only the second holiest site in Judaism and the world’s oldest Jewish community, but the Jewish people have lived in Hebron continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman periods. It was only in 1929 that the city became temporarily “free” of Jews as a result of an Arab pogrom instigated by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
This resolution is not about heritage or preserving it, it’s about replacing it.
It is a modern pogrom against Jewish history – a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish people’s connection to the land.
UNESCO’s stated mission is to “build peace in the minds of men and women.” Denying reality, the facts on the ground and thousands of years of history will not lead to peace.
It is this very attitude that currently exacerbates the Arab-Israeli conflict. If UNESCO wants, as its director-general states, to “foster this spirit of tolerance and respect for history” I suggest they begin by ensuring their judgments are based on historic fact, not deliberate denial to suit a religious agenda.
How can the nations and their elected representatives respond to a vote that either denies or overwhelmingly sits on the fence of history? By introducing legislation to begin the movement of their diplomatic missions and embassies to the historic capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel – Jerusalem.
Moving embassies to Jerusalem will not only uphold a right afforded to every other nation in the world, but will send a message to the surrounding Arab nations that introduced this UNESCO resolution: while Jerusalem may be a city revered by three faiths, it has only ever been the capital of the Jewish people despite ample opportunity for conquerors to make it their own. Or in the words of the great statesman Winston Churchill: “You ought to let the Jews have Jerusalem; it was they who made it famous.”
The author is the director of outreach and communications at the Israel Allies Foundation.