by Dr. Theresa Newell, CMJ USA Board Member
On Thursday, October 13, 2016, UNESCO’s Executive Board meeting in Paris adopted a resolution put forth by an Arab delegation on behalf of the Palestinian Authority that effectively disregards Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem holy sites, and has led Israel to cut ties with the cultural body. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is an arm of the United Nations. The resolution is titled “Occupied Palestine.” The Jerusalem Post reported that the six-page draft resolution claims that the Western Wall is part of the Temple Mount and therefore Islamic. It broadly condemns Israeli actions in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.
The Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen called the resolution “a total Islamization” of a site revered by Jews as well as Muslims. The Post pointed out that the Western Wall is a retaining wall built 2,000 years ago by King Herod. The purpose was to create an acropolis or flat area for the enhancement of the Jewish Temple, which stood on the mount at that time. This was the Temple that stood during the life of Jesus. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, a Byzantine [Christian] church stood on the spot in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
“To disconnect the Jewish people from the Western Wall is one step too much, even for nations that are the most anti-Israel,” Hacohen said. He noted that “the timing is also problematic, since the Temple Mount issue has already sparked Palestinian violence against Jewish citizens.”
The Temple Mount is under the custodianship of the Wakf Muslim religious trust and the Jordanian monarchy. Jordon voted for the resolution. Palestinians have accused Israel of wanting to change the status quo of this arrangement – a charge which Israel has repeatedly denied.
An aerial view of the Dome of the Rock, left, in the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s old city, and the Western Wall, center, the holiest site for Jews, October 2, 2007. (AFP/Jack Guez)
UNESCO’s Executive Board chairman Michael Worbs told Israel’s Channel 10 that when Jerusalem was declared a World Heritage Site, its importance to the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was highlighted. He stated, “I am very well aware of that [importance] and personally would never deny that,” referring to Jewish historical connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.