The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been in the news over the past few months for outrageous attempts by the Palestinians to seek to use the institution to erase Jewish history. These attempts are toxic to any hope of finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and put the reputation of UNESCO in grave danger. It is also not a new phenomenon.
In recent years, the Palestinian leadership has pushed a consistent strategy of avoidance of direct negotiations with Israel in favor of internationalizing the conflict. They do this by going to international institutions to attack Israel in the wildly misguided hope of having the international community impose Palestinian negotiating positions on Israel.
One of the first targets the Palestinians set was UNESCO, where, thanks to an automatic majority at U.N. bodies, they were accepted as a member “state,” even though no such state exists. The Palestinians showed their gratitude to UNESCO for this newly-acquired illegitimate “state” status by politicizing the organization as a tool to both erase the Jewish connection to our people’s history in our ancient homeland, and to advance the Palestinian narrative. This was not necessarily a new strategy (for instance, in 2010 the UNESCO Executive Board passed a resolution declaring the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as Palestinian holy sites), however it was ramped up.
The Palestinians quickly moved to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site in the “State of Palestine,” and moved to place it on a list of heritage sites in danger, even though there is no threat to the church, unlike sites of ancient civilizations in other parts of the Middle East that have seen wholesale destruction. Following the Church of the Nativity, the Palestinians also convinced UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to place Battir, a town south of Jerusalem that sits on the 1949 armistice line, on the list of heritage sites in danger.
By far the most dangerous of the games played at UNESCO by the Palestinians is the attempt to strip Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, from Judaism and the Jewish people. The Temple Mount, the section of Jerusalem’s Old City where the ancient Temple was housed before its destruction, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, is the holiest site in Judaism.
What is undeniable, unless, that is, you are a UNESCO delegate from certain countries, is the connection between Judaism and this site. It is the center of our collective heart. The site is also important for Christians (who also know the site by the name the Temple Mount) and Muslims (who refer to it as Al-Haram Al-Sharif). UNESCO resolutions have taken to calling the site only by its Arabic name and described it as a Muslim site, ignoring millennia of Jewish history.
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As if this was not appalling enough, the Palestinians even had the gall to try to claim the Western Wall (the Kotel in Hebrew) as well. Last October, the Arab Group presented (on behalf of the Palestinians) a resolution to the Executive Board that said the Western Wall Plaza (referring to it as “Al-Buraq Plaza,” an uncommonly used name) was an “integral part” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (which sits atop the Temple Mount). An international uproar ensued, and the offensive language was removed from the final (and still deeply-flawed) resolution.
But the attempt at historical revisionism has not ceased. The following Executive Board session, in April 2016, passed a resolution that referred to the Kotel plaza in the following disrespectful way: Al-Buraq Plaza/“Western Wall Plaza.” The UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in July 2016 copied this language on the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, as if the Palestinians can simply get UNESCO to disregard historical fact by repetition.
Why are the Palestinians and their fellow-travelers trying to re-classify the Western Wall (and when that fails, rename it)? It comes back to the Temple Mount. The Western Wall is the sole remaining still-standing structure of the Temple compound. It is the retaining wall on the western edge of the compound. It is an inconvenient reminder for the Palestinians, who have their own aspirations for a capital in Jerusalem, that the heart of the city is deeply and fundamentally tied to Jewish history and the Jewish people.
All of the UNESCO moves by the Palestinians are part of a broader strategy to rebrand history so that it fits within the Palestinian narrative while at the same time trying to erase the Jewish ties to Jerusalem. It won’t work. Jerusalem is holy to three religions, of course, but the link between Judaism and Jerusalem is unique in history. By seeking to use UNESCO resolutions to loosen the ties between Judaism and Jerusalem, the Palestinians will only succeed in sullying UNESCO’s reputation.
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