Hebron is home to a religious site, above, that is holy to both Jews and Muslims. Israel says the Unesco votes ignores Jewish history. Photo by Quique Kierszenbaum
By Raf Sanchez, Middle East correspondent, The Telegraph
July 07, 2017
Israel branded Unesco “shameful and antisemitic” and called for the US to slash its funding after the global heritage organisation passed a pro-Palestinian resolution about the flashpoint city of Hebron.
Hebron is the largest city in the occupied West Bank and its ancient quarter is home to a religious site which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, known as either the Tomb of the Patriarchs or the al-Ibrahimi mosque.
Unesco voted on Friday to recognise both the religious site and the Old City around it as Palestinian heritage sites*, infuriating Israelis who believe Hebron is the birthplace of the Jewish people. Unesco also voted that the Israeli occupation was endangering the site.
Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister, released a furious statement after the vote on Friday and called for Donald Trump to punish Unesco by cutting its funding.
אביגדור ליברמן ✔ @AvigdorLiberman
UNESCO is an antisemitic, politically biased organization whose decisions are scandalous.
11:49 AM – 7 Jul 2017
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“Unesco is a politically biased, shameful and antisemitic organization whose decisions are scandalous, and I hope that with the help of our great friend the United States, the organization’s budget will be cut off,” he said.
Palestinians celebrated the vote as a diplomatic victory.
Hebron has consistently been one of the most fraught areas of the West Bank. It is home to around 200,000 Palestinians but 500 Israeli settlers also live in the city, protected by heavily-armed Israeli combat troops.
Palestinians living around the settlement are subjected to severe restrictions on their movements and there is regular violence between settlers, soldiers and Palestinians.
Israeli soldiers in Hebron follow a stop-and-search policy, only on young Palestinians, here on a Palestinian boy on the streets of Hebron. Photo by Quique Kierszenbaum
The 12-3 Unesco vote was the latest in a series of symbolic pro-Palestinian resolutions adopted by UN bodies, which have enraged Israel but have little real-world impact.
Palestine is recognised as a nation state at Unesco, allowing it to appear on an equal footing to Israel. In the UN’s main body it only has observer status, meaning it is not recognised as fully-fledged country.
Israel and the US argue that many of the UN’s bodies are deeply biased against the Jewish state.
For example, the UN Human Rights Council regularly votes to condemn Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights but rarely criticises the Syrian regime for killing civilians a few miles away.
The UK criticised the “disproportionate focus on Israel” earlier this year and, in line with the Trump administration, said it would vote against anti-Israel resolutions if there was not more balance at the Human Rights Council.
Nikki Haley, above, is the ambassador to the UN for the US – and also, unofficially, for Israel. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/ AFP
Mr Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, has made defending Israel one of the cornerstones of her tenure at the United Nations and has threatened to pull the US out of the Human Rights Council because of its votes against Israel.
The Unesco vote on Friday marks the failure of a co-ordinated diplomatic campaign by the US and Israel to try to stop the vote. Unesco ambassadors were briefed at the Israeli foreign ministry last month to try to persuade them not to support the resolution.
Ms Haley also wrote to the director general of Unesco and to the secretary general of the UN urging them to oppose the vote.
The religious site at the heart of Hebron is believed to house the tomb of Abraham – the forefather of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and his family.
The structure was originally built by the Jewish king Herod and then later added to by the Muslim caliphs. The site is believed to be the oldest continually used house of prayer and today its site is split uneasily between Jewish and Muslim worshippers.
Israel and the U.S. waged intensive diplomatic efforts to thwart the Palestinian resolution; Israeli ministers accuse of UNESCO denying history and being antisemitic
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
July 07, 2017
Despite intensive diplomatic efforts waged in recent weeks, Israel and the United States failed to recruit the support of enough member states to vote down the move.
Twelve states on the World Heritage Committee voted in favour of the resolution and three voted against it.
The resolution that was proposed by the Palestinians includes two main clauses. The first asserts that Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs are Palestinian heritage sites, and will be registered as such in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The second asserts that the two sites are to be recognized as being in danger, meaning that each year UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will convene to discuss their case.
“It’s disappointing and embarrassing to see UNESCO denying history and distorting reality time after time to knowingly serve those who try to wipe the Jewish state off the map,” he said. “Israel won’t renew co-operation with UNESCO as long as it continues to serve as a tool for political attacks instead of being a professional organization.”
Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman called UNESCO a “politically slanted organization, disgraceful and antisemitic, whose decisions are scandalous.”
“No decision by this irrelevant organization will undermine our historic right over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, or our right over the country. I hope that with the help of our great friend the United States, this organization is defunded.
“The decision proves, once again, that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t seek peace but rather seeks to incite against and slander Israel,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Hebron settlers called the decision “ridiculous,” “antisemitic” and “typical of UNESCO’s bunch of ignoramuses who are consumed by hate.”
The Palestinians hailed UNESCO’s vote, with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling it “the only logical and correct decision.”
“Hebron is a city in the heart of the State of Palestine that hosts a site invaluable to world heritage and holy to billions of people around the world of the three monotheistic religions. Hebron’s Old City and holy site is under threat due to the irresponsible, illegal, and highly damaging actions of Israel, the occupying Power, which maintains a regime of separation and discrimination in the city based on ethnic background and religion.
“The State of Palestine will continue to defend and celebrate Palestine’s many important historic sites as part of world heritage and resist any attempt to hold Palestine or its history hostage to the agenda and actions of intolerance and exclusion.”
To pass, the resolution needed the support of two-thirds of the committee’s voting members. The decision was taken by secret ballot after three states asked for one during Friday’s meeting.
Israel and the United States have been pressing several members of the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO’s secretariat for a secret ballot that would allow more countries, including an Arab state, to vote against the resolution or abstain from voting without paying a political price.
A shouting match broke out over the issue during Friday’s meeting between Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen and the Palestinian and Lebanese envoys. The argument unfolded when Shama Hacohen learned that the vote would only be partially secret, meaning that while the states wouldn’t be asked to reveal their choice, the voting wouldn’t be conducted behind a screen.
Shama Hacohen accused the Polish envoy chairing the meeting of violating his commitment regardin the secret ballot. At one point, the Lebanese envoy demanded that Shama Hacohen be ejected from the meeting by security guards.
Ultimately, the partially secret ballot proceeded as planned, as 21 envoys cast their ballots into a box in the meeting room’s centre.
A senior Israeli diplomat said on Friday that the Polish envoy who chaired the meeting had reneged on his promise of ensuring a secret vote. The lack of secrecy and presence of cameras had barred several states, include an Arab country, from voting against the resolution, the diplomat added.
UNESCO awarded the Cave of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrihimi mosque the status of WORLD heritage site – which is in Palestine – not a Palestinian heritage site.
See Don’t say ‘Palestine’ – it’s an antisemitic word for the Unesco statement.