Monday, September 28, 2020

UNESCO condemns Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem holy sites

By Matt Matthews - October 19, 2016
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Israeli government] [Settlers] [Benjamin Netanyahu]

UNESCO has affirmed Palestinian claims to holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, condemning the Israeli government’s aggressive attempts to control Al-Aqsa Mosque and its environs.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization resolution, passed in a contentious vote on Tuesday 17 October, addresses Israeli violations of religious freedoms across the West Bank.

But it focuses on the bitterly-contested compound known to Muslims by the names Al-Aqsa and Haram al-Sharif, and to Jewish people as Temple Mount.

By exclusively using the Islamic names for the site, and referring to Israel as the “occupying power”, the resolution has angered both Israel and its allies in the United Kingdom and the USA, who voted against the motion.

Contrary to the claims of the Israeli government, the ruling does not reject the spiritual claims of Jewish people to the site, instead “affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.”

However, the resolution is a catalogue of Israeli crimes and rights violations around al-Aqsa. Issued on the same day as 200 illegal Israeli settlers entered the site under heavy military escort, it “firmly deplores the continuous storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Israeli rightwing extremists”.

The resolution also criticizes: the barring of Muslim worshippers from the third-holiest site in Islam; aggression against Muslim congregants, clergy and conservationists; obstruction of Arab conservation work; destructive Israeli excavations and building projects around Al-Aqsa; and damages caused to the 1300-year-old mosque by the bullets of Israeli soldiers.

Speaking to reporters, Palestinian deputy Ambassador to UNESCO Mounir Anastas said the ruling “reminds Israel that they are the occupying power in east Jerusalem and asks them to stop all their violations.”

The resolution additionally condemns the rampant aggression of illegal settlers in Al-Khalil (Hebron), abetted by the Israeli Forces. It particularly criticizes the “denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship”, namely Al-Haram al-Ibrahami, known in the Jewish tradition as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Bethlehem’s Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque (Rachel’s Tomb) is also singled out as a site of Israeli violations, and the resolution furthermore “strongly deplores the continuous Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which harmfully affects the free and sustained movement of personnel and humanitarian relief items, as well as the intolerable number of casualties among Palestinian children.”

24 nations backed the resolution, 6 opposed it, and there were 26 abstentions. Neither Israel nor Palestine are part of the voting UNESCO executive board, and following the announcement of the al-Aqsa motion Israel has suspended its ties to the United Nations agency altogether.

“With this absurd resolution, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference. Along with the USA, Israel withdrew all its funding to UNESCO when Palestine was voted in as a non-executive member in 2011.

The Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem is universally understood to be a crime under international law.

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