The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has placed the ancient Palestinian city of Jericho on the World Heritage List. This is indeed worthy of celebration, but it begs us to ask why the UN doesn’t protect the people who live there or anywhere else in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Surely humans are more valuable than historic buildings? Without humans, there would be no Palestinian culture or ancient cities to wonder and marvel at. Earlier this year, the narrow “World Heritage” roads in the Palestinian city of Jericho ran with tears and the blood of innocents after Israeli occupation forces carried out a large-scale raid of the Aqabet Jaber refugee camp. The violence meted out by the Zionist army lasted for a terrifying six hours. When it was all over, five Palestinians were dead and two were seriously wounded. Survivors are still in Israeli custody and so are some of the bodies of the dead. The heartless Israelis won’t even allow grieving Palestinians to bury their loved ones.
During the February raid on Jericho, the Israeli military arrested Hamas official Shaker Amara, who have recently been released from prison. While crowds of men and women clad in black made their way on foot from funeral to funeral, other residents spent the morning dealing with the destruction of homes, farms and vehicles, said Al Jazeera reporters at the scene.
The Hamas leadership warned of a revolution after the killings in Jericho, an ancient city that has seen its fair share of slaughter over the centuries. I wonder, therefore, what the grieving Palestinian widows and orphans will make of the UNESCO designation of their ancient home.
The day that we place archaeological treasures above human life is, in my view, a sad one indeed
Jericho is renowned as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history spanning thousands of years. Yet while it is vitally important, as part of the legitimate resistance against Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine, to protect the region’s history, culture and civilisation, the day that we place archaeological treasures above human life is, in my view, a sad one indeed.
“The UNESCO decision is an affirmation of Jericho’s rich, uninterrupted and long-lasting heritage as embodied by 10,000 years of human development,” said the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates. “The decision reflects the international community’s endorsement of Palestine’s invaluable contribution to world history and human heritage and the Palestinian right to self-determination over their cultural resources and rights.”
The ministry added that the State of Palestine reiterates its firm commitment to work with UNESCO to defend the Palestinian people’s right to preserve, protect and develop cultural heritage against all dangers, pillaging and attacks. “We call on the international community to join in protecting Palestinian cultural heritage for generations to come.”
According to UNESCO, anyone attacking buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, as well as historic monuments, is committing war crimes as set out in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. That’s all very commendable, but until we declare human life to be more precious than mud, bricks and mortar, I can’t see a real cause for celebration in Jericho or anywhere else across the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
The brutal truth is that neither UNESCO nor any other agency of the United Nations is ever going to use its full powers against Israel, which is guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a daily basis, including the crime of apartheid. The UNESCO decision, therefore, should be seen for what it is: a balm to soothe the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which collaborates with the Israeli occupation forces and practically begs for international recognition of the kind that the UN organisation has just delivered. We all know, though, that it won’t make any difference whatsoever to the impunity that Israel enjoys — or the violence to which it subjects the Palestinians — thanks to the same UN which clearly thinks that protecting ancient buildings is more important than protecting Palestinian lives.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.