By: Ramzy Baroud | (Ma’an News Agency) | – –
Did Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi actually read the UNESCO Resolution full text of the UNESCO resolution [pdf] on Palestine and Israel, before he raved with anger?
“I think this is a mistaken, inconceivable resolution,” he said.
“It is not possible to continue with these resolutions at the UN and UNESCO that aim to attack Israel. It is shocking and I have ordered that we stop taking this position (his country’s abstention) even if it means diverging from the position taken by the rest of Europe,” he added.
Renzi, who became prime minister in 2014 at the relatively young age of 39, knows exactly how the game is played. In order to win favor with Washington, he must first please Tel Aviv.
His country has abstained from the Oct. 12 vote on a resolution that condemns Israel’s violations of the cultural and legal status of Occupied East Jerusalem. This decision has ignited the ire of Israeli Ambassador to Rome Ofer Zaks who riled up the Jewish community in Italy to protest the abstention. Renzi, in turn, was converted into a champion of the ‘Temple Mount,’ the name Israel uses to describe the Palestinian Muslim holy site.
Renzi cravenly went on damage control mode without truly understanding the nature of the resolution, which merely condemned Israel’s obvious violations of international law, and only calls for Israel to respect the status of Palestinian culture in the occupied city.
None of procedures that led to the vote on the UNESCO resolution — voted by 24-6, with 26 abstentions — violated protocol, nor was any of the wording inconsistent with international law. In fact, UNESCO was merely doing its job: attempting to protect and preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the world.
Jerusalem is a sacred and a holy city to a majority of humanity, simply because it is significant to the spiritual well-being of the adherents of the three monotheistic religions. In fact, the resolution stated so:
“Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions …”
Renzi’s outburst is quite disappointing, to say the least, for the young, eager politician simply tried to score cheap political points with Israel — thus the United States — without a full, or even partial comprehension of what the UNESCO resolution resolved. Nor did he seem aware of the fact that such text is largely a repeat of what has been discussed by the world’s leading cultural organization in April, and repeatedly before that date.
“If anyone wants to say something about Israel, let them say it, but they should not use UNESCO… To say that the Jews have no links to Jerusalem is like saying the sun creates darkness,” he said, paraphrasing the sentiment displayed by the Israeli prime minister.
It would be rather sad if Renzi sees a mentor in Benjamin Netanyahu, for the latter is one of the least liked world leaders who has made a mockery of international forums and derided the United Nations itself as anti-Semitic and its process as ‘theater of the absurd.’
This is what Netanyahu had said in response to the resolution and shortly before he suspended his country’s membership in UNESCO. Using a language that is as amusing as his cartoon depiction of the Iranian nuclear bomb in his famous UN spectacle in 2012, he said:
“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.”
Other Israeli officials followed suit with a chorus of denunciations, including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who described the decision as an “embarrassment” for UNESCO. Culture Minister Miri Regev cut to the chase by labeling the resolution “shameful and anti-Semitic.”
In fact, it was neither.
In addition to Renzi’s odd reaction, the United States and other Western governments reacted with exaggerated anger, again without even addressing the situation on the ground, which prompted the resolution — and numerous other UN resolutions in the past — in the first place.
Even the Czech parliament jumped on board, voting to condemn what they described as a “hateful, anti-Israel” sentiment.
I have read the resolution repeatedly to pinpoint the specific text that could possibly be understood by Israel’s friends as hateful, to no avail. The entirety of the text was based on past international conventions, resolutions, international law, and refers to Israel as the Occupying Power, as per the diktat of the Geneva Conventions.
The Italian, Czech, American anger is, of course, misdirected and is largely political theater. But, of course, there is an important context that they refuse to address.
Israel is working diligently to appropriate Muslim and Christian heritage in East Jerusalem, a city that is designated by international law as illegally occupied.
The Israeli army and police have restricted the movement of Palestinian worshipers and is excavating under the foundation of the third holiest Muslim shrine, Haram al-Sharif, in search of a mythological Temple.
In the process of doing so, numerous Palestinians, trying to defend their Mosque from the attacks staged by Israeli occupation forces and extremist Jewish groups, have been killed.
How is UNESCO to react to this?
The resolution merely, ‘called on Israel’ to “allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif.”
Moreover, it ‘stressed’, the “urgent need of the implementation of the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.”
Where is the ‘hate’ and ‘Anti-Semitism’ in that?
Israel’s anger is, of course, fathomable. For nearly fifty years, following the illegal occupation and annexation of the Palestinian Arab city, Israel has done everything it could possibly do to strip the city of its universal appeal and Arab heritage, and make it exclusive to Jews only — thus the slogan of Jerusalem being Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital.’
Israel is angry because, after five decades of ceaseless efforts, neither UNESCO nor other UN institutions will accept Israel’s practices and designations. In 2011, following the admission of ‘Palestine’ as a member state, Israel ranted and raved as well, resulting in the US cutting off funding to UNESCO.
The latest resolution indicates that Israel and the US have utterly failed to coerce UNESCO.
What also caused much fury in Tel Aviv is that UNESCO used the Arabic references to Haram al-Sharif, Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim religious and heritage sites. The same way they would refer to Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza and China’s Great Wall by their actual names. Hardly anti-Semitic.
Since its establishment atop Palestinian towns and village, Israel has been on a mission to rename everything Arabic with Hebrew alternatives. Recent years have seen a massive push towards the Judaization of Arab Christian and Muslim sites, streets and holy shrines, a campaign spearheaded by the Israeli right and ultranationalist groups.
To expect UNESCO to employ such language is what should strike as ‘absurd.’
Not only should the UNESCO resolution be respected, it should also be followed by practical mechanisms to implement its recommendations. Israel, an Occupying Power, should not be given a free pass to besiege the holy shrines of two major world religions, restrict the movement and attack worshipers, annex occupied territories and destroy what is essential spiritual heritage that belongs to the whole world.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy [or that of Informed Comment].
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, author, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.
Related video added by Juan Cole:
RT: “UNESCO ‘fails’ to recognize Israel’s historic connection to Temple Mount & Western Wall”
APPENDIX: Text of the UNESCO Resolution[click here for pdf]
Two hundredth session PROGRAMME AND EXTERNAL RELATIONS COMMISSION (PX)
Item 25: OCCUPIED PALESTINE
Submitted by: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan
The Executive Board,
1. Having examined document 200 EX/25,
2. Recalling the provisions of the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their additional Protocols (1977), the 1907 Hague Regulations on Land Warfare, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its related Protocols, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), the inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls at the request of Jordan on the World Heritage List (1981) and on the List of World Heritage in Danger (1982), and the recommendations, resolutions and decisions of UNESCO on the protection of cultural heritage, as well as resolutions and decisions of UNESCO relating to Jerusalem, also recalling previous UNESCO decisions relating to the reconstruction and development of Gaza as well as UNESCO decisions on the two Palestinian sites in Al-Khalil/Hebron and in Bethlehem,
3. Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions, also affirming that nothing in the current decision, which aims, inter alia, at the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem, shall in any way affect the relevant Security Council and United Nations resolutions and decisions on the legal status of Palestine and Jerusalem,
4. Deeply regrets the Israeli refusal to implement UNESCO previous decisions concerning Jerusalem, particularly 185 EX/Decision 14, notes that its request to the Director-General to appoint, as soon as possible, a permanent representative to be stationed in East Jerusalem to report on a regular basis about all the aspects covering the fields of competence of UNESCO in East Jerusalem, has not been fulfilled, and reiterates its request to the DirectorGeneral to appoint the above-mentioned representative;
5. Deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City, and reiterates its request to Israel, the occupying Power, to prohibit all such works in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
6. Thanks the Director-General for her efforts to implement previous UNESCO decisions on Jerusalem and requests her to maintain and reinvigorate such efforts;
I.B Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif and its surroundings
I.B.1 Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif
7. Calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and its mandate extended to all affairs relating to the unimpeded administration of AlAqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, including maintenance, restoration and regulating access;
8. Strongly condemns the escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the Awqaf Department and its personnel, and against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, and requests Israel, the occupying Power, to respect the historic status quo and to immediately stop these measures;
9. Firmly deplores the continuous storming of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to take necessary measures to prevent provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
10. Deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions against civilians including Islamic religious figures and priests, decries the forceful entering into the different mosques and historic buildings inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharifby different Israeli employees including the so-called “Israeli Antiquities” officials, and arrests and injuries among Muslim worshippers and Jordanian Awqaf guards in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by the Israeli forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to end these aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths;
11. Disapproves of the Israeli restriction of access to Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif during the 2015 Eid Al-Adha and the subsequent violence, and calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to stop all violations against Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
12. Deeply regrets the refusal of Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts in charge of the UNESCO project at the Centre of Islamic Manuscripts in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif,and requests Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts without restrictions;
13. Regrets the damage caused by the Israeli Forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and reaffirms, in this regard, the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship and as an integral part of a world cultural heritage site;
14. Expresses its deep concern over the Israeli closure and ban of the renovation of the AlRahma Gate building, one of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif gates, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to reopen the Gate, and stop obstruction of the necessary restoration works, in order to repair the damage caused by the weather conditions, especially the water leakage into the rooms of the building;
I.B.2 The Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram ash-Sharif
15. Also calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to stop the obstruction of the immediate execution of all the 18 Hashemite restoration projects in and around Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif;
16. Deplores the Israeli decision to approve a plan to build a two-line cable car system in East Jerusalem and the so called “Liba House” project in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the construction of the so called “Kedem Center”, a visitor centre near the southern wall of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, the construction of the Strauss Building and the project of the elevator in Al-Buraq Plaza “Western Wall Plaza” and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to renounce the above-mentioned projects and to stop the construction works in conformity with its obligations under the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
17. Reaffirms that the Mughrabi Ascent is an integral and inseparable part of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
18. Takes note of the 16th Reinforced Monitoring Report and all previous reports, together with their addenda prepared by the World Heritage Centre as well as the State of Conservation reports submitted to the World Heritage Centre by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Palestine;
19. Deprecates the continuing Israeli unilateral measures and decisions regarding the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate, including the latest works conducted at the Mughrabi Gate entrance in February 2015, the instalment of an umbrella at that entrance as well as the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza “Western Wall Plaza”, and the removal of the Islamic remains at the site, and reaffirms that no Israeli unilateral measures, shall be taken in conformity with its status and obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict;
20. Also expresses its deep concern regarding the illegal demolitions of Umayyad, Ottoman and Mamluk remains as well as other intrusive works and excavations in and around the Mughrabi Gate Pathway, and also requests Israel, the occupying Power, to halt such demolitions, excavations and works and to abide by its obligations under the provisions of the UNESCO conventions mentioned in paragraph 2 above;
21. Reiterates its thanks to Jordan for its cooperation and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to cooperate with the Jordanian Awqaf Department, in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and to facilitate access of Jordanian Awqaf experts with their tools and materials to the site in order to enable the execution of the Jordanian design of the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate in accordance with UNESCO and World Heritage Committee decisions, particularly 37 COM/7A.26, 38 COM/7A.4 and 39 COM/7A.27;
22. Thanks the Director-General for her attention to the sensitive situation of this matter, and requests her to take the necessary measures in order to enable the execution of the Jordanian design of the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate;
I.C UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls and UNESCO experts meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent
23. Stresses yet again the urgent need of the implementation of the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
24. Recalls in this regard 196 EX/Decision 26 that decided, in case of non-implementation, to consider, in conformity with the International Law, other means to ensure its implementation;
25. Notes with deep concern that Israel, the occupying Power, had not complied with any of the 121 decisions of the Executive Board as well as six decisions of the World Heritage Committee that request the implementation of the reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
26. Regrets the continued Israeli refusal to act in accordance with UNESCO and World Heritage Committee decisions that request a UNESCO experts meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent and the dispatch of a reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
27. Invites the Director-General to take necessary measures to implement the above-mentioned reactive monitoring mission in accordance with World Heritage Committee decision 34 COM/7A.20, prior to the next session of the Executive Board, and invites all concerned parties to facilitate the implementation of the mission and experts meeting;
28. Requests that the report and recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission as well as the report of the technical meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent, be presented to the concerned parties;
29. Thanks the Director-General for her continuous efforts to implement the above-mentioned UNESCO joint reactive monitoring mission and all related UNESCO decisions and resolutions;
II RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF GAZA
30. Deplores the military confrontations in and around the Gaza Strip and the civilian casualties caused, including the killing and injury of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children, as well as the continuous negative impact in the fields of competence of UNESCO, the attacks on schools and other educational and cultural facilities, including breaches of inviolability of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools;
31. Strongly deplores the continuous Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which harmfully affects the free and sustained movement of personnel and humanitarian relief items as well as the intolerable number of casualties among Palestinian children, the attacks on schools and other educational and cultural facilities and the denial of access to education, and requests Israel, the occupying Power, to immediately ease this blockade;
32. Reiterates its request to the Director-General to upgrade, as soon as possible, the UNESCO Antenna in Gaza in order to ensure the prompt reconstruction of schools, universities, cultural heritage sites, cultural institutions, media centres and places of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by the consecutive wars on Gaza;
33. Thanks the Director-General for the information meeting held on March 2015 on the current situation in Gaza in the fields of competence of UNESCO and on the outcome of the projects conducted by UNESCO in the Gaza Strip-Palestine, and invites her to organize, as soon as possible, another information meeting on the same matter;
34. Also thanks the Director-General for initiatives that have already been implemented in Gaza in the fields of education, culture and youth and for the safety of media professionals, and calls upon her to continue her active involvement in the reconstruction of Gaza’s damaged educational and cultural components;
III THE TWO PALESTINIAN SITES OF AL-ḤARAM AL IBRĀHĪMĪ/TOMB OF THE PATRIARCHS IN AL-KHALĪL/HEBRON AND THE BILĀL IBN RABĀḤ MOSQUE/RACHEL’S TOMB IN BETHLEHEM
35. Reaffirms that the two concerned sites located in Al-Khalil/Hebron and in Bethlehem are an integral part of Palestine;
36. Shares the conviction affirmed by the international community that the two sites are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam;
37. Strongly disapproves the ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalil/Hebron, that harmfully affect the integrity of the site, and the subsequent denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship, and asks Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
38. Deeply deplores the new cycle of violence, going on since October 2015, in the context of the constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers and other extremist groups against Palestinian residents including schoolchildren, also asks the Israeli authorities to prevent such aggressions;
39. Regrets the visual impact of the separation wall on the site of Bilal Ibn Rabaḥ Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as well as the strict ban on access of Palestinian Christian and Muslim worshippers to the site, and demands the Israeli authorities to restore the original character of the landscape around the site and to lift the ban on access to it;
40. Deeply regrets the Israeli refusal to comply with 185 EX/Decision 15, which requested the Israeli authorities to remove the two Palestinian sites from its national heritage list and calls on the Israeli authorities to act in accordance with that decision;
41. Decides to include these matters under an item entitled “Occupied Palestine” in the agenda at its 201st session, and invites the Director-General to submit to it a progress report thereon.