PLO: UNESCO must not be silent on Israeli 'cultural assault,' annexation


Staff member
PLO: UNESCO must not be silent on Israeli 'cultural assault,' annexation
The Palestinians “welcome the adoption of two resolutions by the Executive Committee of UNESCO on the need to preserve educational and cultural institutions in Palestine,” Hanan Ashrawi said.
JULY 7, 2020

Palestinian leaders on Tuesday called on UNESCO not to stay silent in the face of Israel’s “cultural assault” and its pending annexation of portions of the West Bank, after the international body’s Executive Committee in Paris approved two watered-down resolutions on “occupied Palestine.” The Palestinians “welcome the adoption of two resolutions by the Executive Committee of UNESCO on the need to preserve educational and cultural institutions in Palestine as well as protect heritage sites in occupied Jerusalem, Hebron and other Palestinian cities,” PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said.

“However, a more proactive role is needed from UNESCO, in line with its mandate,” she said. “We call on [UNESCO Director-General Audrey] Azoulay to use the standing and influence of her office to carry out her mandate in Palestine. Silence in the face of the ongoing Israeli assault against Palestinian heritage, narrative, and history runs contrary to the mandate and principles of UNESCO.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over the last decade has been one of the main bodies in which Israelis and Palestinians have battled to maintain their cultural, historical and religious narratives.

UNESCO in 2011 was the first UN body to recognize Palestine as a member state of its organization, even though the UN as a whole has yet to do so. In 2017, its World Heritage Committee inscribed Palestine Hebron’s Old Town and its Tomb of the Patriarchs on the World Heritage in Danger List. That inscription largely focused on the Muslim period from the 12th century on. It did not take a broader historical view that would have included the Jewish ties, which date back to Abraham’s purchase of the Tomb as recorded in the Bible. The organization also came under fire for resolutions that its 58-member Executive Committee approved twice a year. These texts disavowed Israeli and Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s Old City and Judaism’s most holy sites, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

The resolutions referred to those holy sites solely by their Muslim names of al-Haram/al-Sharif and the Buraq Plaza. Al-Haram/al-Sharif is Islam’s third-most-sacred site. For the last few years, Azoulay has neutralized the situation by reducing what become known as “the Jerusalem resolution” to a very simple watered-down text. That language read: “1. Having examined document 209 EX/24 as well as the annexes attached to this decision; 2. Recalling its previous decisions concerning “Occupied Palestine”; 3. Decides to include this item in the agenda of its 210th session and invites the director-general to submit to it a follow-up report thereon.” All controversial elements specifically with reference to Jewish ties to Temple Mount and the disavowal of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem were then placed in an annex.

In a nod to supporters of Israel with regard to the Jerusalem resolution, a line in the annex stated: “Reaffirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” But the annex text also disavowed Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and specifically rejected Israel’s 1980 decision to formally annex east Jerusalem. “Bearing in mind that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the chapter and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded,” the text said. The compromise of placing these lines in an annex was part of a larger attempt to depoliticize UNESCO. It did not stop the United States and Israel from withdrawing from the organization in 2019 to protest anti-Israeli bias.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO called on UNESCO to become more political on its behalf. More steps are needed here, Ashrawi said, “in light of the escalating and illegal Israeli actions against Palestinian heritage sites in Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Battir Terraces in the Bethlehem District, including Israel’s illegal annexation plans that specifically target historical and archaeological sites in Palestine.” PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said action was needed to halt the theft of Palestinian heritage and history, reported WAFA, the Palestinian news Agency. The US was colluding with Israel to advance a fake Zionist narrative based on myths and not on any scientific or historical facts, he was quoted as saying by WAFA.