TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -On Friday, the UN’s cultural arm voted 12 to three -- with six abstentions -- to give heritage status to al-Khalil Hebron in the occupied West Bank, which is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Israeli settlers.
On Thursday, a Palestinian official said Tel Aviv was seeking to thwart Palestinian efforts to include the Old City of al-Khalil (Hebron) on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
Deputy Mayor of al-Khalil Yousef al Jabari made the remarks to a group of journalists visiting the Old City of al-Khalil on Thursday, one day prior to UNESCO’s vote on the matter.
The Old City of al-Khalil is also home to the Ibrahimi Mosque, one of the key holy sites in the Muslim world.
Jabari described Ibrahimi Mosque as a “pure Muslim” site and said, “We will do everything we can [for] this place to remain a mosque, and a mosque for Muslim worshipers only.”
If the Palestinian Authority (PA) succeeds in its bid on Friday, the Old City of al-Khalil would become the third site registered under “Palestine” since the UNESCO recognized it as a member state in 2011.
Jabari argued that he did not recognize Jewish ties to the Old City.
“The real religious Jews do not come and pray in the cave (Ibrahimi Mosque). It is only settlers who come to pray. It is not the religious Jews. If Jews think they have a connection or ties to [Ibrahimi Mosque], why do only settlers go to this site?” he asked.
According to Palestine’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the old city of al-Khalil urgently needed protection from “assaults that harm the exceptional international value of the place.”
On June 30, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, claiming that Ibrahimi Mosque “is in no immediate threat. Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have.”
She further expressed hope that other countries would join the US in opposing the measure.
Palestine’s Foreign Ministry hit back at Haley, accusing her of being “racist and anti-Palestinian” and serving as an ambassador for Israel, rather than the US at the UN.
It also condemned “the crude intervention of the US ambassador in the work of UNESCO and the attempt to influence the independence of the UN organization.”
Israel an ‘occupying power’
On Tuesday, the UNESCO passed a resolution, denouncing Israel’s “illegal” practices in East Jerusalem al-Quds and describing the regime as an “occupying power.”
The resolution slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem [al-Quds], particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.”
It further called Israel “the occupying power” and reaffirmed UN resolutions that rejected the regime’s claims to East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Hamas spokesman Abudllatif al-Qanoun welcomed the vote, saying that UNESCO’s resolution demolishes the false Israeli narrative and asserts the Palestinian right in Jerusalem al-Quds and al-Aqsa Mosque.
PA spokesman Yousef al-Mahmoud also hailed the resolution and called on the international community to “enforce these decisions on the ground in order to lift injustice, oppression and domination practiced by the occupying power against our steadfast people in the city of Jerusalem and against its Islamic and Christian holy places.”
Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds during the Six-Day War in 1967. It later annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds in a move not recognized by the international community.
Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon condemned UNESCO’s resolution and said, “Nothing is more disgraceful than UNESCO declaring” Israel the occupier of the Western Wall and Jerusalem al-Quds’ Old City.
Last year, UNESCO adopted a similar resolution, titled Occupied Palestine and sponsored by several Arab countries.
The previous resolution “strongly condemns the escalating Israeli aggression and illegal measures against… the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their holy site al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif.”
Enraged by such anti-Israel measure, Tel Aviv has cut ties with UNESCO and reduced its UN budget, putting the 2017 payments at $3.7 instead of the original $11 million.