After angering Israel, UNESCO urges ‘respect and dialogue’

UN cultural chief says Jerusalem sacred to three monotheistic religions after body adopts resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Temple Mount

Palestinian girls sit in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount compound on October 23, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Palestinian girls sit in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount compound on October 23, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

The UN cultural body on Monday sought to calm anger over a resolution on a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site which saw Israel accuse it of seeking to “rewrite history” after it omitted all mention of Jewish historical ties to the area.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova called for “respect and dialogue” with regards to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound or Temple Mount, revered by both Muslims and Jews.

“Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. Nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity,” Bokova said in a statement.

“Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward.”

The chief of the UN's education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Global Forum for Youth, Peace and Security, in Madaba, Jordan, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP/Raad Adayleh)
The chief of UNESCO, the UN’s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria. (AP/Raad Adayleh)

The UNESCO executive board on Thursday adopted a resolution on “Occupied Palestine” presented by several Arab countries.

The resolution outraged Israel, which it refers to several times as the “occupying power,” while referring to the holy site by only its Arab name. The text does refer to the Western Wall Plaza but places it in quotation marks, after using the Arabic Al-Buraq Plaza.

 In this Monday, Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks at the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the back, in Jerusalem's Old City. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
In this Monday, Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks at the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the back, in Jerusalem’s Old City. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

It criticizes Israel for “excavations and works” in East Jerusalem, and urges it to stop “aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access” to their holy site.

The resolution also accuses Israel of “planting fake Jewish graves in 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.

This is yet another absurd UN decision,” Prime Minister Benjamin 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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