The fiasco at UNESCO (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By DAVID PARSONS 07/09/12)
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In Washington they joke that no one is safe so long as Congress is in
session, but nothing can compare to the “Flat Earth” society
operating within the UN system.
Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization made a series of decisions regarding religious sites in
the Holy Land that are both patently absurd and woefully unhelpful in
the search for peace and mutual understanding in this fractured
First, UNESCO followed up on last year’s admission of “Palestine” as
a member state of the world body by listing the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site located in this
nonexistent country of Palestine.
Incredibly, the traditional place of Christ’s birth and the
pilgrimage route leading to it were also added to the list of
endangered World Heritage sites.
In pushing for this decree, the Palestinian Authority argued that the
Church of the Nativity was in danger because the “Israeli occupation”
was preventing them from repairing a leaky roof in the church as well
as blocking access to this revered site.
Ahead of the vote, a team of UNESCO experts had visited Bethlehem and
determined that the church, in fact, was not endangered and did not
even qualify yet for World Heritage status. The Catholic, Greek
Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clerics who oversee the Nativity
compound concurred with these findings in a letter sent to UNESCO in
April, which urged that the site not be turned into a political
Yet a majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee did just that
at its annual session in St. Petersburg last Friday. Ignoring the
pleas of the clergymen and the advice of their own experts, 13 of the
21 member states on the Committee voted to prematurely grant the
church World Heritage status and blame Israel for endangering it.
Now Israel was not opposed to listing the Nativity Church as a place
of great significance to the entire world. But it did object to the
politicizing of the process and to the finding that it is endangered.
After all, nothing is stopping the roof repairs and over two million
Christian pilgrims managed to safely visit the Church of the Nativity
In another swipe at Israel last week, the UNESCO Committee also
endorsed a Jordanian declaration from some 30 years ago that accused
Israel of endangering the Temple Mount and walls of the Old City of
Amman managed to add Jerusalem’s walled city and the Temple Mount to
the World Heritage list in 1981 and then to the endangered list in
1982. But according to the Petra news agency, UNESCO has now accepted
the Hashemite Kingdom’s claim that it has jurisdiction over these
areas and that the Israeli occupation is harming the cultural
heritage of the city.
The issue of Jerusalem is back on UNESCO’s agenda because Israel is
trying to repair a rickety foot bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, the only
access to the Temple Mount compound for Jews and Christians. It has
been in danger of collapsing in recent years due to local earth
tremors and heavy winter rains, and Israeli authorities have
developed plans to replace the wooden bridge with a sturdier
But Jordan has objected, insisting it alone has the right to make the
repairs. The Palestinians also exert a claim to being the proper
guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, yet the
PA backed the recent Jordanian effort at UNESCO.
This is because the Israeli plan calls for first conducting an
archeological excavation of the embankment underneath the Mughrabi
bridge and the Palestinians are afraid even more artifacts will be
uncovered there proving the ancient Jewish connection to the area.
So it is clear that the Palestinians are once again manipulating UN
forums like UNESCO, where they enjoy automatic majorities against
Israel, to further their political campaign to delegitimize the
Jewish state. In this instance, they have portrayed Israel as a
reckless and uncivilized destroyer of cherished Christian and Muslim
holy places, and thus unfit to be included in the family of nations.
In addition, the PA is once again circumventing direct talks with
Israel to achieve peace or cooperation at any level and instead
trying to impose solutions from the outside.
UNESCO should not be lending itself to such machinations, as this
undermines its own stated goal of contributing to the building of
peace among nations and peoples through an intercultural dialogue
based upon respect for commonly shared values.
Yet UNESCO members have now entrusted a revered church to a
Palestinian regime that has compiled a sordid record on safeguarding
Christian and Jewish religious sites. For example, PA police stood by
in October 2000 while a Palestinian mob looted and razed Joseph’s
Tomb in Nablus. Upon orders from PA leader Yasser Arafat, PA security
forces also assaulted and forcefully removed Russian Orthodox priests
and nuns at monasteries in Hebron and Jericho.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the PA’s lack of credibility
when it comes to safeguarding holy sites occurred at the very Church
of the Nativity now entrusted to the Palestinians. In a dramatic
April 2002 standoff with IDF troops, gunmen from Arafat’s own Fatah
faction truly endangered the historic Church by commandeering the
building and wiring it throughout with explosives.
In contrast, it cannot be stressed enough that Israel has a far
better record on safeguarding and allowing access to holy sites than
any other sovereign who has ruled the Holy Land over these many
Yet the fiasco goes on! And the latest UNESCO decisions will only
whet the Palestinians’ appetite to encroach on more religious sites
within Israel. In 2010, it was Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. Next, we
could see the PA exerting its claim to the Western Wall, which they
insist is a Muslim holy site known as the al-Buraq Wall, where
Muhammad tied his winged horse in his mythical “Night Journey.” After
all, it lies just inches away from the “Israeli occupied” Mughrabi
The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy
Jerusalem, www.icej.org. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 07/09/12)
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