UNESCO head reiterates veto of Palestine poster collection
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UNESCO head reiterates veto of Palestine poster collection

Dismissing reports that 'alarming' works may yet be included in heritage list, Bokova vows to say no even if some incendiary material is removed

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Dan Walsh, the owner and curator of the Palestine Poster Project Archives, which was nominated for inclusion into the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register, but blocked by the UNESCO director general, with one of the posters (screen capture: YouTube)
Dan Walsh, the owner and curator of the Palestine Poster Project Archives, which was nominated for inclusion into the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register, but blocked by the UNESCO director general, with one of the posters (screen capture: YouTube)

A controversial collection of Palestine-themed posters will not be included in UNESCO’s register of world heritage due to their hateful nature, the head of the organization reiterated Monday. She rejected reports that suggested the collection might yet be approved if the curators make some revisions.

“I don’t think that by changing one or two posters the issue will be settled,” the association’s director general, Irina Bokova, told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview Monday. “I think this is wrong and UNESCO should not be behind it.”

While, technically, the collection has not yet been formally rejected by UNESCO, Bokova vowed to make sure this will happen eventually; she rejects not only individual posters, but the collection’s entire “approach.”

On Wednesday, The Times of Israel reported that Bokova had decided to veto the inclusion of the Liberation Graphics Collection of Palestine Posters into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Since then, several reports appeared that claimed the poster collection remains under consideration for inscription into the register. The reports quoted a UNESCO official as saying that the nomination has not been rejected, but that the nominator was merely requested to revise it.

UNESCO's Director General Irina Bokova poses with the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier and the original poster for the exhibit on the Jewish people's 3,500-year connection to the land of Israel, in January. (photo credit: Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center)
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova poses with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier and the original poster for the exhibit on the Jewish people’s 3,500-year connection to the Land of Israel, January 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center)

“It is absolutely normal for the committee to ask for revisions and improvements of the nominations to make them meet the program’s selection criteria,” the UNESCO representative was quoted as saying.

But Bokova told The Times of Israel that a misunderstanding had likely taken place, and that the UNESCO official was merely explaining a technical procedure. After the international advisory board approved the collection’s nomination last August, she sent a letter to the board’s chairman declaring her intention to oppose its inclusion into the register.

“The international advisory committee still has to take a formal decision,” Bokova explained. “That is why I wrote this letter. I want to prevent [the board] from taking this decision [to approve the collection] and I told them that even if they take this decision I will oppose it.”

As director general, Bokova has the power to veto the board’s recommendation and will do so if necessary, she asserted.

Even if the collection were to be revised and some of the more questionable posters removed she would still make use of her veto — because the collection’s “approach is wrong,” Bokova added.

“I think that very many of the posters run counter to the values of UNESCO and that is why I oppose them,” she explained. The collection includes “indeed very, very alarming posters.”

The collection was initially accepted by an international advisory board but then blocked by Bokova, who said at the time that some of the posters were “totally unacceptable” and “run counter to the values of UNESCO,” the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO “should not associate itself with such documents whose inscription could fuel hatred and anti-Semitic perceptions,” she stated, referring to the fact that some of the posters appear to glorify violence and terrorism.

Besides universal themes of occupation and the motifs depicting the struggle for liberation and peace — such as barbed wire and white doves — many of the posters feature machine guns and hand grenades, extolling armed resistance and terrorism. Some of the posters glorify Palestinian suicide attacks and other murderous missions against Israeli civilians, including a 1978 massacre known in Israel as the bloodiest terror attack in the country’s history.

In August, the collection — which includes some 1,700 posters celebrating the Palestinian national liberation movement — was accepted for formal review by UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, which strives to preserve archival holdings of “world significance and outstanding universal value.”

Usually, nominations are considered by an international advisory board, and, if approved, confirmed by the organization’s director general. In this particular case, too, the board reviewed the nomination: None of its members raised any concerns, which indicated that the board would recommend that the director general formally accept the collection into the register.

However in this case, Bokova, surprised that no one had raised any objections to the posters, said she has decided to block the collection’s approval.

Clearly, “some of these posters are offensive,” she wrote in another letter to World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer, who had protested the nomination. “It is my conviction that UNESCO should not associate itself with such documents whose inscription could fuel hatred and anti-Semitic perceptions.”

Bokova addressed a similar letter to the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, warning that the collection’s inclusion in the program could promote “hate and anti-Semitism.”

The Palestinian poster collection nominated for inclusion in the World Memory program comprises some 1,700 posters created by Palestinian and international artists “in solidarity with the quest for Palestinian self-determination,” according to a document on the UNESCO website.

The Palestine poster genre “is unique in world art and a much-overlooked feature of Palestinian cultural heritage,” the document states. The posters are “important repositories of primary data on Palestinian political and social history.”

Many of the images, which can be viewed free of charge here, feature violent themes. In 1982, Abu Man created a black poster featuring the lower half of a bleeding body superimposed on a yellow Star of David. “Sabra-Shatila — the Massacre,” it reads. A 1977 work by Kamal Kaabar shows a fist destroying a blue Star of David, together with the line “Fatah — 12 years (of struggle) for a free Arab Palestine.”

Another poster, headlined “The Path to the Homeland,” depicts Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 led what Dan Walsh — the curator of the collection — called “a military operation near Tel Aviv.” He was referring to the Coastal Road Massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists armed with Kalashnikov rifles, RPG light mortars and high explosives hijacked a bus and killed 38 Israeli civilians. Mughrabi is honored with several posters, as are other members of the crew that carried out the massacre.

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