Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticized a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) resolution from last week in which Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall area in Jerusalem’s Old City are wholly ignored.
The resolution refers to Israel as the “occupying power” at every mention and uses the Arabic al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif without ever calling it the Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews. The text does refer to the Western Wall Plaza but places it in quotation marks, after using the Arabic Al-Buraq Plaza.
“This is yet another absurd UN decision,” Netanyahu said Saturday. “UNESCO ignores the unique historic connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount, where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years. The UN is rewriting a basic part of human history and has again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”
The resolution accuses Israel of “planting Jewish fake graves in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” and of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”
It also blasts recently approved plans to build an egalitarian prayer service space near Robinson’s Arch and “restriction of access” to the site during Muslim holidays.
Jews consider the complex, formerly the site of the two temples, to be Judaism’s holiest site. Muslims regard the compound — which today houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — as the third-holiest site in Islam.
While Jewish visitors are allowed to enter the site, Jewish worship is banned under arrangements instituted by Israel when it captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The site has been the focal point of violence wracking Israel and the Palestinian territories — including dozens of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis — over the past several months, amid claims by Palestinian leaders that Israel plans to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Israel has vehemently denied those charges.
Other condemnations of Israel brought forth in the resolution include the Jewish state’s blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — which came after the Palestinian terrorist organization in 2007 ousted the PA from power in the enclave — as well as Israel’s control over the Tomb of the Patriarchs compound in Hebron and the Rachel’s Tomb compound in Bethlehem.
“[UNESCO] 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,” the resolution states.
“[The Executive Board] reaffirms that the two concerned sites located in Al-Khalīl/Hebron and in Bethlehem are an integral part of Palestine,” the resolution continues, in refrence to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb, citing “the ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalīl/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 urges Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions.”
The UNESCO resolution, authorized by the executive board’s Programme and External Relations Commission, was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan.
The resolution was approved by 33 states, including France, Russia, Spain and Sweden. Seventeen countries abstained while six voted against including the United States, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Ghana and Turkmenistan were altogether absent from the vote at the 58-member board.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote a biting letter to UNESCO calling the decision “a disgraceful attempt to rewrite history and rewrite reality as part of a sustained political campaign against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“UNESCO prides itself on promoting tolerance, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue yet it passes resolutions which erases the Jewish people from the historical narrative. This latest one-sided resolution is a stain on the United Nations,” Lapid went on.
The Yesh Atid head, who sits in the opposition, said the organization must not allow itself “to be hijacked as part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel and isolate the Jewish people.”
“As we have seen with the United Nations Human Rights Council, this campaign not only strips away the ability of UN agencies to fulfill their goals but makes them a tool of modern anti-Semitism,” he said.
Last October, UNESCO dropped a Palestinian bid to declare the Western Wall a Muslim holy site amid widespread criticism but passed a resolution condemning ongoing Israeli archaeological excavations near the Temple Mount and elsewhere in the Old City.