On Wednesday, Oct. 26 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved a controversial resolution concerning conservation of Old Jerusalem. The resolution has ignited furious claims from both those in favor and against it. In particular, the controversy is in response to language used to discuss a specific area of the Old City revered by Jews and Muslims.
The Washington Post reports that “the document refers to the Jerusalem site that Jews call the Temple Mount only by its Arab name.” Israel says that in failing to use Jewish terms to refer to the site, the resolution fails to recognize Israel’s historic claim on it.
The Old City is a central aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in part because both Palestinians and Israelis claim east Jerusalem as their capital. What Muslims call Haram al-Sharif and the Jews refer to as the Temple Mount is an area of interest for both parties. Calvin religion professor Won Lee said one reason the site is so significant is because Jews believe Adam was created out of dust taken from that place. He also said, “it is the place where the Solomonic temple was built, according to the Hebrew Bible.”
For Muslims, the site is especially significant because they believe it is the location of Muhammad’s ascension. It is also home of the golden Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Lee added, “Since there is no separation of religion and politics (or in our phrase, church and the state) for these faith traditions, losing the temple site would be unthinkable and unbearable for their national identity. Living in the ‘promised’ land (as stated in the Hebrew Bible) is a way to affirm and maintain their identity as God’s chosen people and nation.”
The resolution concerning this historically significant site was passed by the World Heritage Committee, which is composed of 21 countries. It passed by secret vote with the approval of ten countries; two voted against, eight abstained, one was absent. This resolution is one in a succession of UNESCO measures which Israelis view as proof of an anti-Israel bias within the United Nations.
According to the Post, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the resolution by saying, “What needs to be understood, and it will take time, is that this absurdity, which harms not only the historical truth and the truth of the present, […] also harms in my opinion the U.N. itself.”
The Washington Post also said that the United States called the resolution “inflammatory.” The Guardian quoted Hillary Clinton as saying it was “disappointing and wrong” that UNESCO was “considering a resolution on Jerusalem that fails to recognize and respect the deep and historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy sites.”
On the other hand, The Guardian reported that Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, welcomed the resolution. Erekat affirms that the resolution upholds “the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”
The varied responses to UNESCO’s resolution indicates how the religious and political tensions surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continue to divide the international community.