UNESCO head: Jerusalem is sacred to all three monotheistic faiths

Vote on resolution that plays down Jewish connection to Jerusalem postponed until October due to failed coup in Turkey

Irina Bokova speaks with reporters in New York on April 12, 2016. (Kena Betancur/AFP)
Irina Bokova speaks with reporters in New York on April 12, 2016. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Jews, Muslims and Christians all have the right to claim historical ties to the Old City of Jerusalem, the head of the UN’s cultural body said Sunday, as the organization postponed until October a vote on a new resolution that seeks to downplay the Jewish connection to the ancient city.

Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), issued a statement affirming that the Old City is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities have a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny or conceal any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription in 1981 as a World Heritage site,” Bokova said in the statement Friday.

Jordan and the Palestinians last week submitted a new draft resolution on “the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls,” which minimizes Judaism’s links to its holy sites of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. But a vote on the resolution was put off — along with the rest of this weekend’s UNESCO session in Istanbul — due to the failed Turkish coup.

“The 40th session of the World Heritage Committee is suspended until further notice,” the Paris-based body said in a statement on its website.

An initial draft of the resolution, whose text was condemned by Israel, was shelved minutes before it was scheduled to go to vote last Tuesday, when the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations feared they would not receive sufficient votes.

The European Union then presented a revised version of the text, which was also rejected by Israel.

An aerial view of the Temple Mount as seen on March 1 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“The EU proposal still denies the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The original text called for a return of the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to what it called “the historic status quo” following the 1967 Six Day War, under which the Jordanian Waqf religious authority had the right to administer all aspects of the sites “including maintenance, restoration, and regulating access.”

Israel was repeatedly referred to as the “occupying power,” while being accused of causing damage to the site, conducting illegal excavations, and preventing the Jordanian Waqf, which administers the site, from conducting repairs and renovations. The text also referred to the Western Wall plaza in quotation marks, after using the Arabic term Al-Buraq Plaza without qualification.

Bokova’s statement on Friday mentioned the Old City of Jerusalem’s inscription in 1981 as a World Heritage site.

“As a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem has always been of great symbolic importance. Among its 220 historic monuments, the Dome of the Rock stands out: built in the 7th century, it is decorated with beautiful geometric and floral motifs. It is recognized by all three religions as the site of Abraham’s sacrifice. The Wailing Wall delimits the quarters of the different religious communities, while the Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses Christ’s tomb.”

UNESCO approved a similar resolution in April, and was castigated by Israel.

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