UNESCO puts He­bron on en­dan­gered list

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

UNESCO on Fri­day de­clared the Old City of He­bron a Pales­tinian world her­itage site in dan­ger, spark­ing out­rage from Is­rael which said the de­ci­sion de­nied a Jewish claim to an an­cient burial cave that is also sa­cred to Mus­lims. The Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs, known to Mus­lims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, is ven­er­ated by mem­bers of both faiths as the gravesite of the bib­li­cal pa­tri­arch Abra­ham (PBUH), his son Isaac (PBUH) and grand­son Ja­cob (PBUH).

The UN’s cul­tural arm voted 12 to three with six ab­sten­tions - to grant her­itage sta­tus to the core of the an­cient city in the oc­cu­pied West Bank, which is home to more than 200,000 Pales­tini­ans and a few hun­dred Jewish set­tlers who live un­der heavy Is­raeli mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion. “Just in­scribed on @UNESCO #WorldHer­itage List & World Her­itage in Dan­ger List: He­bron/Al-Khalil Old Town,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion said on its of­fi­cial Twit­ter feed.

The vote drew a sharp de­nun­ci­a­tion from Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, who de­scribed it as “an­other delu­sional de­ci­sion by UNESCO”, while the United States an­nounced it would re­view its ties with the agency. “This time they ruled the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs in He­bron is a Pales­tinian site, mean­ing not a Jewish site, and that it is in dan­ger,” Ne­tanyahu said in­cred­u­lously, speak­ing in He­brew in a video posted on­line.

US Am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley mean­while termed the de­ci­sion an “af­front to his­tory”. The US stopped fund­ing UNESCO in 2011 af­ter it ad­mit­ted the Pales­tini­ans as a mem­ber-state, but it re­mains a mem­ber of the body’s 58-mem­ber ex­ec­u­tive board. Brought by the Pales­tini­ans, the res­o­lu­tion de­clared He­bron’s Old City to be an area of out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value. The res­o­lu­tion was fast-tracked on the ba­sis that the site was un­der threat, with the Pales­tini­ans ac­cus­ing Is­rael of an “alarm­ing” num­ber of vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing van­dal­ism and dam­age to prop­erty. The Pales­tinian for­eign min­istry hailed Fri­day’s de­ci­sion a “suc­cess” for its diplo­matic ef­forts that came “de­spite a fran­tic Is­raeli cam­paign spread­ing lies and dis­tort­ing the facts about the Pales­tinian rights.”

Is­rael has long ac­cused the United Na­tions of in­her­ent bias against it and there have been a num­ber of dis­putes at the or­ga­ni­za­tion, where Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas has sought to take the bat­tle for state­hood. In May, UNESCO passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Is­rael’s role as the “oc­cu­py­ing power” in an­nexed east Jerusalem in an­other de­ci­sion slammed by Is­rael which sees the en­tire city as its uni­fied cap­i­tal. He­bron claims to be one of the old­est cities in the world, with its ori­gins

dat­ing back to the Chal­col­ithic pe­riod - more than 3,000 years BC. At var­i­ous times it has been con­quered by Ro­mans, Jews, Cru­saders and Mam­luks.

It is also a stark sym­bol of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. The few hun­dred Is­raelis live closed off in sev­eral small, in­ter­con­nected set­tle­ments that most of the world con­sider as il­le­gal, with Pales­tini­ans largely banned from en­ter­ing and us­ing nearby streets. Is­rael seized the West Bank in the 1967 war in a move con­sid­ered il­le­gal by the United Na­tions.

The UNESCO com­mit­tee usu­ally votes via a show of hands but this time, Croa­tia, Ja­maica and Poland re­quested the se­cret bal­lot, prompt­ing a heated dis­cus­sion which re­quired the chair­man to call in se­cu­rity. There was an­other mo­ment of in­trigue when Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Ha­co­hen, took the floor af­ter the vote but kept be­ing in­ter­rupted by his cell phone. “Mr Chair­man, it’s my plumber in my apart­ment in Paris. There is a huge prob­lem in my toi­let,” he even­tu­ally said. “And it’s much (more) im­por­tant than the de­ci­sion that you just adopted,” he said.

Is­rael’s UN am­bas­sador Danny Danon also weighed in on the vote, de­scrib­ing it as “shame­ful & of­fen­sive”. “This is an ugly dis­play of dis­crim­i­na­tion & an act of ag­gres­sion against the Jewish peo­ple. No @UN agency can dis­as­so­ci­ate our peo­ple from the burial grounds of our pa­tri­archs & ma­tri­archs.” By list­ing sites on its World Her­itage in Dan­ger list, UNESCO seeks to mo­bi­lize the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to pro­tect them. It also al­lows for the al­lo­ca­tion of im­me­di­ate World Her­itage Fund as­sis­tance to the prop­erty.


HE­BRON: A pic­ture taken on June 29, 2017 shows an Is­raeli bor­der guard walk­ing by out­side the Ibrahimi Mosque in the heart of this di­vided city in the south­ern West Bank.

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