Is­rael freezes ties with Unesco for ‘deny­ing Jewish holy sites’

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Is­rael has frozen co-op­er­a­tion with the UN’s cul­tural agency, ac­cus­ing it of deny­ing Ju­daism’s con­nec­tions to the re­li­gion’s holi­est sites.

Its ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter said a Unesco draft de­ci­sion con­cern­ing Jerusalem “de­nies his­tory and en­cour­ages ter­ror”.

It comes af­ter the body ap­proved a text which re­peat­edly used only the Is­lamic name for a hill­top com­plex which is also the holi­est site in Ju­daism.

The site is known to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount and Haram al-Sharif to Mus­lims.

The draft de­ci­sion, sub­mit­ted by seven Arab coun­tries, crit­i­cises Is­rael’s ac­tiv­i­ties at holy places in Jerusalem and the oc­cu­pied West Bank.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the “im­por­tance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monothe­is­tic re­li­gions”, the doc­u­ment refers to the sa­cred hill­top only by the name “al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif (No­ble Sanc­tu­ary).

It is the lo­ca­tion of two Bi­b­li­cal Jewish tem­ples and is joined by the Western Wall, ven­er­ated by Jews as part of the orig­i­nal sup­port­ing wall of the tem­ple com­pound.

Haram al-Sharif is also the place where Mus­lims be­lieve the Prophet Muham­mad as­cended to Heaven, and is the third holi­est site in Is­lam.

The stated aim of the text was “the safe­guard­ing of the cul­tural her­itage of Pales­tine and the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter of East Jerusalem”.

It re­peat­edly de­nounced Is­raeli ac­tions, in­clud­ing the use of force, im­po­si­tion of re­stric­tions on Mus­lim wor­ship­pers and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work. Is­rael re­gards such crit­i­cism as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

The draft text was passed at com­mit­tee stage by 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 ab­sten­tions. Two coun­tries were ab­sent. It will now be sub­mit­ted to Unesco’s ex­ec­u­tive body, which will vote on whether to adopt it.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett said Unesco was ig­nor­ing “thou­sands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem” and aid­ing “Is­lamist ter­ror”.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said in a Face­book post that Unesco had be­come a “theatre of the ab­surd” in tak­ing “another delu­sional de­ci­sion”.

“To say that Is­rael has no con­nec­tion to the Tem­ple Mount and the Western Wall is like say­ing that China has no con­nec­tion to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no con­nec­tion to the pyra­mids. By this ab­surd de­ci­sion, Unesco has lost what lit­tle le­git­i­macy it had left.”

The move was also con­demned by Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world, in­clud­ing the World Jewish Congress, which called it an “in­flam­ma­tory, one-sided de­ci­sion”.

How­ever Pales­tini­ans, who seek an in­de­pen­dent state in the West Bank and Gaza, wel­comed the mea­sure.

“This is an im­por­tant mes­sage to Is­rael that it must end its oc­cu­pa­tion and recog­nise the Pales­tinian state and Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal with its sa­cred Mus­lim and Chris­tian sites,” said Na­bil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mahmoud Abbas.

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