Israeli officials have deplored UNESCO’s condemnation of Israeli archaeological activity in Jerusalem’s Old City.
At a meeting this week in Bonn, Germany, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted 13-2, with five abstentions, to keep the Old City on its list of endangered World Heritage sites. It condemned the “persistence of the Israeli illegal excavations” in the Old City and a series of Israeli initiatives outside it, including the Jerusalem light rail line that runs near the Old City walls, the City of David archaeological site in Silwan and an elevator at the Western Wall, which UNESCO said severely affects the “visual integrity and the authentic character of the site.”
UNESCO is the United Nations’ education, cultural and scientific organization.
Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, condemned the committee’s decision as a one-sided resolution and noted its failure to cite any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, referring to the Temple Mount area only as a “Muslim holy site of worship.”
The UNESCO committee also expressed concern with an Israeli plan to build a cable car system in eastern Jerusalem, restrictions on freedom of access to the Temple Mount, and Jewish visits to the site, which the committee called “Israeli extremist groups’ continuous incursions into al-Aqsa Mosque Compound.”
David Harris of the American Jewish Committee called it ironic that “at a time when Islamist terrorists are destroying world heritage sites in Syria and Iraq, this UNESCO committee hypocritically chooses to attack the record of Israel, which has carefully and diligently protected the worship sites of all religions.”
Last week, CNN prompted criticism by placing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City 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.