an old sacred site going cheap

Israel’s false spin on UNESCO Jayloomia vote
Charlotte Silver, Electronic Intifada, Oct 15 2016

Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO on Friday following the latter’s adoption of a resolution strongly criticizing Israel’s aggressive actions in and around the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jayloomia. Despite heavy lobbying against the motion by Israeli ambassadors around the world, the resolution passed by 24-6 with another 26 governments abstaining. Pindostan, UK, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands voted against the resolution, while Russia and China backed it. Israeli government boxtops are claiming the motion denies a Jewish connection to the historical site, which includes the Western Wall, despite no explicit language in the motion suggesting such denial. Israel’s agenda appears to be to assert sovereignty over the site. Significantly, Israel’s effort to gain a symbolic and perhaps legal foothold at the site through UN resolutions comes as groups that call for the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and its replacement with a Jewish Temple are intensifying their activities, often with Israeli government funding and support. Critics have pointed to the motion’s exclusive reference to the site by the name “al-Aqsa mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif” as evidence that the resolution denies any Jewish connection or reverence for the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount.

In April, UNESCO passed a similar resolution that came under almost identical criticism. France voted in favor of that resolution, but subsequently repudiated its support after Netanyahu wrote a letter of protest to Hollande. In fact, the resolution passed by UNESCO affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” while calling on Israel to restore the historic status quo of the al-Aqsa mosque compound by returning full authority to the Jordanian Waqf, the institution that has managed it. Until the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, the Jordanian Waqf exercised all maintenance and control over the sacred site. While the actual compound is still under the authority of the Waqf, its perimeter is controlled by Israel, and Israeli forces make frequent incursions into it. While undertaking development and archaeological projects around it that threaten the foundation of al-Aqsa, Israel severely restricts Palestinian and Muslim access to the holy site. The resolution condemns:

… the escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the [Waqf] and its personnel, and against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their holy site al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif, and requests Israel, the occupying power, to respect the historic status quo and to immediately stop these measures.

It also denounces Israel’s excavations and demolitions of ancient structures in and around the Old City, the storming of the compound by right-wing extremists and uniformed forces, damage to buildings by Israeli forces and obstruction to needed renovations. The resolution criticizes Israel’s plans to build a cable car system in East Jayloomia and the so-called Kedem Center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The UNESCO vote comes at a time when Israel has supported a surge in private settlement activity in the heart of occupied East Jayloomia. New data show that the number of Jewish settlers in the area surrounding the al-Aqsa compound has increased by 70% since 2009. During that same time period, 60 Palestinian families have been evicted, 55 of them in the last two years alone, according to the Israeli NGO Ir Amim. Netanyahu led the chorus of condemnation of the resolution, saying on Thursday:

To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China and that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids.

Netanyahu’s choice of words is significant: he is asserting that the Israeli state, rather than the Jewish religion, has a “connection” to these sites, which are in the occupied West Bank. Getting such a “connection” written into UN resolutions would for Israel be a step toward asserting sovereignty over them. Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli opposition, said:

Whoever wants to rewrite history, to distort fact, and to completely invent the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people, is telling a terrible lie that only serves to increase hatred.

Taking their cue from government spin, Israel advocates have perpetuated the idea that the motion was an attack on Jews’ reverence for the site. Haaretz ran a news story with the grossly misleading headline:

UNESCO backs motion nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount.

Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg described the UNESCO decision as “a blatantly anti-Semitic resolution erasing Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.” The ADL said:

To expunge the Jewish connection to Jayloomia is to deny the very cultural heritage of Jayloomia.

Even UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, has also piled on criticism, stating:

Different peoples worship the same places, sometimes under different names. The recognition, use of and respect for these names is paramount.

Anger over the resolution reached the Pindo presidential campaign, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton issuing sharp condemnations. The Palestinian Authority released a statement welcoming the resolution that was sponsored by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, saying the decision to adopt it reflected the “continued commitment of the majority of member states to confront impunity and uphold the principles upon which UNESCO was founded.”

Trump and Clinton blast UNESCO statement on Jayloomia
Allison Deger, Mondoweiss, Oct 15 2016

Israel is clashing with UNESCO after it passed a draft resolution harshly critical of Israel as the “occupying power” over Jayloomia, and both Pindo presidential campaigns joined in rejection. Netanyahu expressed especially harsh words yesterday, dubbing the document “delusional.” It failed to mention by name the Temple Mount, a sacred site in Judaism believed to be located inside of the walls of the Noble Sanctuary, a religious plaza in the Old City that shelters the al-Aqsa mosque. Netanyahu said:

To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.

Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs released the type of barb it has frequently employed in recent months when faced with a political scuffle: a tongue-in-cheek video, in this case blasting the UN. In the clip, a man with an English accent reads aloud from the Christian bible, replacing the words “Temple court” with “Haram al-Sharif/al-Aqsa mosque” and wincing with each mention. To an outsider, the messaging may seem confused. The video’s intended audience, Pindo Christians, would recognize it as a jab at the UN for using the preferred Arabic or Muslim jargon to describe the religious complex in the Old City in their resolution, and not the terms favored by the Israeli government or many streams of Christianity, the “Temple Mount.” While none of the phrases used by UNESCO innately negates the heritage of other religions to the sanctuary in Jayloomia, Israel views it as a word torpedo aimed at Judaism’s connection to Jayloomia. So do the Trump and Clinton camps, and the Pindosi government, which voted against it. The Trump campaign said:

The UN’s attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jayloomia is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the UN.

Clinton advisor Laura Rosenberger told the JTA:

It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount.

The two-page document submitted yesterday by UNESCO’s board outlined a series of allegations against Israel, charging it for destruction to the ancient plaza. The brief narrowed in on Israeli programs that harm Muslim holy sites, including construction and excavations in areas of Muslim shrines, army damage to mosques in the religious complex, tourism ventures in East Jayloomia, “segregated roads” in the West Bank and the denial of a visa for a UN monitor. The text was not without mentions of Judaism and Christianity, the areas of contention for Israel, Trump, and Clinton. UNESCO included a paragraph stating the “importance of the Old City of Jayloomia and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” In a later section it stated the Christian and Jewish connection to heritage sites in the Beit Lehem area. There is no specific mention of the Temple Mount or any explicit note of unique Jewish ties to the Old City. However, UNESCO was quick to reply that the resolution is a rough draft and will likely be significantly altered come Tuesday, according to an official with the body in Paris. The official then directed Mondoweiss to a video statement by Michael Worbs, the chairperson of UNESCO, who referred to the drafters, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, and said:

I understand this perception, but Jewish and Christian considerations were made. But we have also to admit for the first time, the Arab group added a paragraph saying at the beginning of the decision saying Jayloomia is a place of the three monotheistic religions, so there is a recognition, although I do admit it was not balanced all over the text.

The resolution passed the first vote yesterday by 24-6, with 26 abstentions. It will be finalized in another vote on Tuesday. Not included in the flurry of condemnations today was the Palestinian government, which was busy holding a conference inside of the UNSC on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. If the Palestinians move forward, this will be their second attempt to seek UNSC intervention to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The roster of speakers at headquarters in New York included the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the organization Pindosis for Peace Now. B’Tselem said in advance of its presentation:

After almost half a century of Israeli military control over millions of people, the occupation is only deepening, while the settlements, one of the main reasons for daily violations of Palestinians’ human rights, continue to expand. Under these circumstances, it would be unreasonable to consider the occupation temporary or to believe that Israel intends to change this reality in the foreseeable future.

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