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UNESCO Chair, Jewish Leaders Blast Arab Proposal to Label Western Wall a Muslim Holy Site

The head of UNESCO, UN’s cultural agency, said that she “deplores” a resolution proposed by Arab country members of the agency’s executive board that would deem the Western Wall to be a Muslim holy site.

Irina Bokova said in a statement that the plan, which is scheduled to be voted on today, “could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” and incite further tensions.

The latest round of violence started after Palestinian leaders spread rumors that the Israeli government was changing the status quo of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam. Jews may visit the site, but are not allowed to pray there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been repeatedly adamant that this policy will not change, but many Arab-Israeli and Palestinian terrorists have said that they were inspired to commit violence in order to prevent supposed Jewish prayer from happening. The Western Wall, at the base of the Temple Mount, is the holiest site at which Jews are allowed to pray.

The Jewish Federations of North America, in a statement denouncing the proposed UNESCO resolution, noted that by saying that the Western Wall is a Muslim holy site, “it is the Palestinians – and their sponsors at UNESCO – who are working to change the status quo, not Israel.”

The draft resolution, submitted to UNESCO by Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, is an affront to the Jewish people and our over two millennia connection to the Western Wall and the Temple it once supported. By acknowledging the holy sites both on and around the Temple Mount solely by their Arabic names, this resolution seeks to invalidate any claim the Jewish people have to our holiest site. The result of this aggressive effort will be to heighten the already palpable religious tensions in Israel and the surrounding region.

At no point does the proposal acknowledge a Jewish association with the Wall, one which clearly dates to biblical times. Instead it ignores a Jewish connection to the site altogether. This gross attempt to erase history is unconscionable and cannot be accepted by the UNESCO Executive Board.

The UNESCO resolution also seeks “condemnation of ongoing Israeli archaeological excavations near the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem’s Old City.” However, as a recent article in Ha’aretz reported, it is the Waqf, the Jordanian Muslim religious trust that operates on the Temple Mount with Israel’s permission, that excavates the area without regard to archaeological concerns. “Muslim authorities have prevented archeologists from conducting any excavations on the Mount, in part out of fear that such explorations will uncover further evidence of a pre-Islamic Jewish presence,” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg added in an essay last week.

Representatives Nita Lowey (D – N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) sent a letter Monday to the American ambassador to UNESCO, Crystal Nix-Hines, urging her to work to block the resolution.

Palestinian efforts to claim exclusive ownership of religious sites such as the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Rachel’s Tomb – and their denial of any Jewish claims to these sites, although Jews have prayed in them for thousands of years, reveal a central obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Palestinian refusal to acknowledge the very existence of Jews in the ancient Jewish homeland.

“This is a clear endeavor to distort history, in order to erase the connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site, and to create a false reality,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Monday.

[Photo: Yaakov Naumi / Flash90 ]