Israel slammed a looming decision on Jerusalem by the UN’s educational and cultural agency, UNESCO, saying it ignores Jewish and Christian ties to the biblical city.
Arab states Algeria, Lebanon and Qatar submitted a resolution this week to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee that excoriates Israel for “the persistence of the illegal excavations and works conducted by the Israeli occupation authorities and the extreme settler groups in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its walls.”
The resolution accuses Israel of damaging artifacts and Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount, Islam’s Haram al-Sharif, and castigates the Jewish state for building a light rail line that passes near the Old City walls and damages their “visual integrity and the authentic character of the site.”
It refers to the Temple Mount only as a “Muslim holy site,” and to the Western Wall plaza — the holiest site in Judaism accessible to Jewish worshipers, who are not allowed to prayer on the mount itself — only by its Muslim moniker, the “Buraq plaza.”
The resolution retains the Old City on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, where it has been since the agency acquiesced to a 1982 Jordanian request to categorize the Israeli-controlled site as “endangered.”
A UNESCO official said a resolution was due to be adopted Wednesday at the World Heritage Committee’s 39th session in Bonn, Germany.
Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold said Tuesday the resolution was “completely one-sided” and “full of distortions and is totally disconnected from reality on the ground.”
He also charged that it “deliberately ignores the historical connection between the Jewish people and their ancient capital,” along with Christianity’s ancient ties to Jerusalem.
“The Jewish people restored their majority in Jerusalem in the mid-19th century. Their ancient synagogues were destroyed and desecrated by a coalition of invading armies in 1948, who ethnically cleansed the Old City of any Jewish presence,” Gold said.
Gold accused the UN agency of hypocrisy. “As the historical heritage sites of this area are being systematically destroyed by jihadist forces, such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, UNESCO’s adoption of utterly false allegations about Israeli archaeological practices is misplaced and hypocritical, at best,” he charged.
The Old City’s presence on the endangered list prompted CNN this week to place the Dome of the Rock, the best-known Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount, at the top of a list it headlined, “Last chance to see: 25 magnificent structures on the verge of extinction.”
The article said the holy site headed the list because “no other site has spent more time on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger” than the Old City. The second-longest tenant on UNESCO’s “endangered” roster, Peru’s Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, on the list since 1986, did not make it into CNN’s top 25 rankings.
“A holy city for three different religions, it attracts millions of tourist with over 200 monuments, including the majestic Dome of the Rock. But political tension has hardened relations between Israel and UNESCO, preventing any preservation plans from moving forward,” CNN wrote in its feature.
The CNN list did not cite a specific or immediate threat to the Old City in general or the 6th-century Dome of the Rock in particular.
The list also did not include the ancient UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, where last Thursday Syria’s antiquities director reported that Islamic State fighters had destroyed an irreplaceable 2,000-year-old lion statue, among other acts of destruction.
Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. It insists it protects access to the holy sites of all religions, which are protected under Israeli law. Its annexation of the eastern half of the city, including the Old City, is not recognized internationally.
AP and JTA contributed to this report.