UNESCO nomenclature wars in Jerusalem

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova issued a statement Oct. 14 repudiating a resolution approved by the body's member states that had been harshly condemned by Israel. The resolution concerns threats to East Jerusalem's holy sites under Israeli occupation, and calls on UNESCO to appoint a permanent representative there to observe. What made it an easy target for Israeli criticism was its reference exclusively to "Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif"—not the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall. Israel froze cooperation with UNESCO after the resolution passed. Wrote Bokova: "The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. 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."

The resolution (PDF) does affirm "the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions." And what it is actually protrsting is indeed urgent and just. It states that UNSECO "Deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City…" 

We have noted the grim eschatological implications of Israel's political archaeology at the Temple Mount, and "Judaization of geography" throughout the Old City., and even the greater West Bank. And it is important to recognize that Israel is in fact an occupying power in East Jerusalem—despite its pretensions to having annexed the entire city. We've also noted UNESCO's past statements calling East Jerusalem part of occupied Palestinian territories, and its protest of Israel's annexationist "Heritage List" of West Bank holy sites.

But just as Israel's list was illegitimate because it failed to recognize the "heritage cites" as actually outside its legally recognized national territory, so this new UNESCO resolution undermines its own message. It allows Israel to change the subject and make the issue perceived erasure of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem. And it plays into the perception that only the state of Israel defends Jewish interests. In other words, it was a statement perfectly designed for Bibi Netanyahu's propaganda. 

The resolution was approved 24-6 by UNESCO's 58-member executive board, with 26 members abstaining and Mexico later retracting its support for the text.  (JP, Oct. 23; YNet, Oct. 18; AFP, Oct. 16; Breaking Israel News, Oct. 14)