Israel has reacted with rage after the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO passed two resolutions recognizing Hebron’s Old City and the Ibrahimi mosque, in the occupied West Bank, as endangered Palestinian heritage sites.
Twelve states on the World Heritage Committee voted in favor of the resolutions and three voted against. Six abstained.
The vote means that Hebron’s Old City and the Ibrahimi mosque, the place where an American Jewish settler massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994, will be added as Palestinian World Heritage sites on UNESCO’s register.
Both sites are also now considered endangered, which means the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will convene every year to evaluate their status.
Hebron’s Old City is home to about 800 Israeli settlers, who move about freely under army protection, while thousands of Palestinians are subjected to harsh military rule, roadblocks and checkpoints.
Israel, backed by the United States, had tried to rally enough member states to block the resolutions.
But after their effort failed, Israeli leaders reasserted Israel’s claim to the occupied West Bank.
Apparently mimicking the style of President Donald Trump, the spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry tweeted an attack on UNESCO: “This irrelevant organization promotes FAKE HISTORY.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the decision “surreal,” immediately announced Israel would withhold another $1 million of membership dues to the United Nations, saying the funds would be used to establish a museum of Jewish heritage in Kiryat Arba, the colony where Baruch Goldstein, the settler who carried out the 1994 mosque massacre, lived.
“This time they decided that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site, meaning not Jewish, and that it’s in danger,” Netanyahu said. He went on to list the names of biblical figures that Jews believe are buried there.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs is the name used by Israel for the Ibrahimi mosque.
Netanyahu – as Israeli officials always do – conflated Judaism with Israeli control. There is of course no contradiction between a site being Palestinian, on the one hand, and being revered by Muslims, Christians or Jews, on the other.
After the vote, Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian Authority’s representative at UNESCO, said that the resolution simply acknowledges that the mosque is in Palestinian territory.
“Palestine has not inscribed a religion on the World Heritage List,” Sanbar said. “Religion cannot be inscribed on such a list. It can only be something that can be felt, something we can fight for.”
Sanbar acknowledged that Palestine encompasses lands “which are sacred to all three monotheistic religions.”
Denying Palestinian existence
Following the vote, a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an Israel lobby group based in Los Angeles, claimed that since Palestine was admitted into UNESCO in 2011, the Palestinians have been using “heritage as war by other means.”
In fact it has been Israel that has relentlessly tried to use Jewish reverence for various sites in the occupied West Bank, especially in Jerusalem, as a pretext to try to assert Israeli sovereignty over them.
Predictably, Israeli officials have tried to spin the international rebuff of their transparent efforts to assert sovereignty over occupied territory as discrimination.
Defense minister Avigdor Lieberman called the UNESCO vote “anti-Semitic.”
“No decision by this irrelevant organization will undermine our historic right over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, or our right over the country,” Lieberman added, giving as clear an indication as possible that Israel does not recognize Palestinian existence, let alone self-determination in the West Bank or anywhere else in historic Palestine.
Lieberman urged the United States to help ensure that UNESCO is “defunded.”
Lies and distortions
“Despite a frantic Israeli campaign spreading lies and distorting the facts about the Palestinian rights, the world has recognized our right to register Hebron and the Ibrahimi mosque under Palestinian sovereignty,” Malki stated.
Israel and the United States, which has openly denounced the resolution, had called for the vote to be secret, to allow member states to vote “without paying a political price,” according to Haaretz.
But UNESCO only allowed the vote to be “partially secret,” meaning member states were not required to reveal how the voted, but the vote did not take place behind a screen.
The vote occurred during the annual World Heritage Committee meeting that is currently taking place in Krakow, Poland.
Earlier this week, the committee approved a resolution reaffirming that Israel occupies East Jerusalem and calls its annexation of the city “null and void.”
That resolution also reaffirms the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City to all three monotheistic faiths.