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unesco’s world heritage committee resolution on israel

Algeria, Lebanon and Qatar submitted a resolution in July 2015 to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee that excoriates Israel for “the persistence of the illegal excavations and works conducted by the Israeli occupation authorities and the extreme settler groups in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its walls.” 

The resolution accuses Israel of damaging artifacts and Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount, Islam’s Haram al-Sharif, and castigates the Jewish state for building a light rail line that passes near the Old City walls and damages their “visual integrity and the authentic character of the site.” It refers to the Temple Mount only as a “Muslim holy site,” and to the Western Wall plaza, the holiest site in Judaism accessible to Jewish worshipers, who are not allowed to prayer on the mount itself, only by its Muslim moniker, the “Buraq plaza.”

The resolution retains the Old City on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, where it has been since the agency acquiesced to a 1982 Jordanian request to categorize the Israeli-controlled site as “endangered.”

A UNESCO official said a resolution was due to be adopted at the World Heritage Committee’s 39th session in Bonn, Germany.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold said yesterday that the resolution was “completely one-sided” and “full of distortions and is totally disconnected from reality on the ground.” He also charged that it “deliberately ignores the historical connection between the Jewish people and their ancient capital,” along with Christianity’s ancient ties to Jerusalem.

“The Jewish people restored their majority in Jerusalem in the mid-19th century. Their ancient synagogues were destroyed and desecrated by a coalition of invading armies in 1948, who ethnically cleansed the Old City of any Jewish presence,” Gold said. Gold accused the UN agency of hypocrisy. “As the historical heritage sites of this area are being systematically destroyed by jihadist forces, such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, UNESCO’s adoption of utterly false allegations about Israeli archaeological practices is misplaced and hypocritical, at best,” he charged.

By Norma Anav, ICJW representative to UNESCO