AJC: UNESCO World Heritage Committee Obliterates Jewish Roots in Jerusalem

AJC deplored the UNESCO World Heritage Committee adoption today of a resolution seeking to erase the age-old Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem. The measure passed by a vote of 10 to 2, with 8 abstentions.

The resolution, "The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls," follows the UNESCO Executive Board resolution of October 13 that deleted Jewish references from holy sites in Jerusalem.

"In back-to-back measures, during the holiest month in Judaism, member states of two UNESCO bodies have thrown truth to the wind. Instead, they have succumbed to the pernicious designs of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Arab countries that have long sought to exploit this forum to castigate Israel and deny the indisputable link of the Jewish people with Jerusalem," said AJC CEO David Harris. "It would be like refusing to recognize Islam's connection to Mecca and Catholicism's ties to Rome. This step may be self-satisfying to the Palestinian leadership and its allies, but, let's be clear, it moves us further away from any prospect of peace and coexistence."

Over the years, the World Heritage Committee has adopted 50 resolutions providing for the inscription of properties around the world - mostly in countries ravaged by armed conflicts or afflicted by natural disasters and other adverse conditions - on the "List of World Heritage in Danger." These resolutions have uniformly employed descriptive, technical language.

Conversely, the resolution adopted today, reaffirming the inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem on the "List of World Heritage in Danger" in 1982, is replete with political terms.

Like the UNESCO decision, the World Heritage Committee resolution repeatedly refers to the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, only by its Muslim name, Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and ignores any Jewish, as well as Christian, connection to this site.

For the record, Judaism -- and the centrality of Jerusalem to Jewish identity, worship, and history -- predates Islam by millennia, and Christianity, with its linkage to Biblical sites in Jerusalem, predates Islam by centuries. The only time adherents of all three religions have enjoyed complete freedom of worship in Jerusalem has been under Israeli administration.

Laudably, both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova criticized the October 13 UNESCO action on Jerusalem.

That measure was adopted by a plurality (24), but not a majority, of voting countries, the largest number of whom either abstained (26) or voted against (6). Subsequently, Brazil and Mexico, which voted in favor, voiced regret for their decision, and Italy, which abstained, later said it should have voted "no."

Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions. "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 church and the Mount of Olives, which is revered by Christians," he said.

"Any perceived undertaking to repudiate the undeniable common reference for these sites does not serve the interests of peace and will only feed violence and radicalism," the Secretary-General added.

"To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list," said Bokova.

Members of the World Heritage Committee are: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Voting is by secret ballot.

Source: American Jewish Committee