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UNESCO and Jerusalem

January 25, 2014 at 12:23 am

The recent reference by the United Nations Educational, Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO) to the occupied city of Jerusalem as the “capital of Israel” was both surprising and contrary to previous decisions of the organisation itself. The latter have emphasised that Jerusalem is an occupied Arab city in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions.

The step was provocative, not only for the Arab Palestinian people, but for all Arabs, Muslims and right-minded people around the world. At a stroke, it undermined the historical and religious rights of the Palestinian people. Why was it allowed to happen, and why at this moment in time?

There is a combination of factors, first and foremost of which has to be the lack of any credible Arab role in international bodies such as UNESCO, and the correspondingly very active role played by Zionists and Zionist sympathisers.

The second factor is the neglect of the city of Jerusalem by Arab regimes, which has allowed the aggressive Judaisation programme of the Israelis to proceed unchecked. Media statements alone are just words; without action to back them up they are useless.

A third factor is the failure of the Arab and Islamic world to provide the holy city and its steadfast people with financial stability in support of their steadfastness. Again, fine-sounding statements such as that made by the recent Arab League summit in Sirte, mean nothing if they are not converted into funds for Jerusalem’s Arab, Islamic and Christian institutions.

Furthermore, UNESCO’s decision encourages the Israeli occupation authorities to press ahead with their Judaisation policies regardless of the damaging effect they have on the city’s historic Islamic and Christian heritage. Does UNESCO or, for that matter, the Arab regimes, not care that a so-called “Museum of Tolerance” is being built by the Israelis on an ancient Muslim cemetery? Where is the tolerance in destroying the graves of some of the noble companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?

UNESCO has over the years regarded Israeli excavations under and near historic Islamic sites to be a threat to the heritage of the Jerusalem as a whole, and yet those excavations are still being carried out in the face of UNESCO’s inaction and now apparent acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nevertheless, UNESCO has listed the city as a World Heritage Site and has adopted procedures to protect the special character of Jerusalem and its monuments and historic cultural sites, as well as called for the maintenance of all such sites. This should mean that all buildings in the city, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, should be safe from archaeological excavations, or the transfer of their contents elsewhere, and any changes in their appearance or cultural and historical character. The key words are “should be”.

It is time for UNESCO to respect its own resolutions and statements, and move to protect the Palestinian culture and heritage targeted by the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, if Palestinian history is also regarded as “World Heritage”. The UN body should uphold the terms of the Convention of (The Hague) for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which is confirmed by the resolutions 3/342 and 3/343, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its fifteenth session, and resolution no. 242 adopted by the Executive Board at its session number 82. It is also committed to all international resolutions including, for example, Security Council Resolutions 252 of 21 May 1968; 267 of 3 July 1969; and General Assembly resolutions 2253 and 2254 of July 1967. These prohibit any proceedings or actions affecting the status of Jerusalem.

In any case, UNESCO’s step illustrates bias towards the Israelis and their occupation which proceeds apace with the Judaisation of the holy city safe, apparently, in the knowledge that the UN will do nothing to stop it.

From a Palestinian perspective, UNESCO has violated international resolutions on Jerusalem in favour of a state built on the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of the land. That state is now trying to eradicate all traces of Palestinian existence. UNESCO should retain balance and refrain from taking sides if it is to maintain any credibility in the region as a protector and custodian of the world’s heritage.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.