As Israel’s right wing tries to Judaise Jerusalem, Palestinians are looking to international law.
Israel has suspended cooperation with UNESCO a day after the UN cultural body passed a resolution that sharply criticised Israeli policies around al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while supposedly rejecting Jewish ties to the holy site in occupied East Jerusalem.
The resolution condemned Israel for restricting Muslims access to the site, and for aggression by police and soldiers. It also recognised Israel as the occupying power.
|Sections from UNESCO resolution:|
“… Deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City, and reiterates its request to Israel, the occupying Power, to prohibit all such works in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
“… Strongly condemns the escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the Awqaf Department 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;
“… Firmly deplores the continuous storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to take necessary measures to prevent provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif;
“… Deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions against civilians including Islamic religious figures and priests, decries the forceful entering into the different mosques and historic buildings inside Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by different Israeli employees including the so-called “Israeli Antiquities” officials, and arrests and injuries among Muslim worshippers and Jordanian Awqaf guards in Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by the Israeli forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to end these aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths;
“… Disapproves of the Israeli restriction of access to Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif during the 2015 Eid Al-Adha and the subsequent violence, and calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to stop all violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif;
“… Deeply regrets the refusal of Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts in charge of the UNESCO project at the Centre of Islamic Manuscripts in Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram AlSharif, and requests Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts without restrictions;
“… 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, the attacks on schools and other educational and cultural facilities and the denial of access to education, and requests Israel, the occupying Power, to immediately ease this blockade;
“… Deeply deplores the new cycle of violence, going on since October 2015, in the context of the constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers and other extremist groups against Palestinian residents including schoolchildren, also asks the Israeli authorities to prevent such aggressions …”
“This is an important message to Israel that it must end its occupation and recognise the Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital with its sacred Muslim and Christian sites,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Palestinian struggle for independence.
Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following its invasion in 1967 – in a move never recognised by the international community – as part of its subsequent military occupation of the West Bank.
Jewish settlers and Zionist organisations have called for complete Jewish control over the mosque compound.
Jewish groups refer to the site as the “Temple Mount” and their increased incursions into the mosque compound have continuously led to Palestinian protests across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military and armed settler incursions have resulted in Palestinian deaths and injuries in recent years in particular. Muslim access to the religious site has also been tremendously limited by the army.
Israel and the US denounced the UNESCO resolution.
“Israel is furious about this resolution by UNESCO because it essentially nullifies any Jewish connection to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” said Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the occupied East Jerusalem.
“The resolution does assert Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – but there is a special section in the resolution that says al-Aqsa Mosque compound is sacred only to Muslims. This is what infuriated the Israeli government.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement on Thursday that UNESCO has lost its legitimacy by adopting this resolution.
“The theatre of the absurd at UNESCO continues and today the organisation adopted another delusional decision which says that the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” he said.
Palestinian critics argue that Israel uses the Jewish connection to Jerusalem as a cover for its political policies that have displaced Palestinians from their homes.
“The present struggle over al-Aqsa is the consequence of Israel’s use of religious dogma as a cover for its violent settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank since 1967,” Ali Abunimah, editor of The Electronic Intifada website, wrote for Al Jazeera.
“Temple groups, funded by the state and the occupation municipality in Jerusalem, are actively agitating for the construction of a Jewish ‘Third Temple’ in place of al-Aqsa Mosque.
“These are the groups behind the increasingly aggressive incursions into al-Aqsa, under the guise of seeking more access for Jews. But the outcome they seek is the destruction of al-Aqsa in order to build the temple; some groups have already developed detailed blueprints for it.”
The resolution, which was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, was voted through on Thursday with 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 abstentions.
Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the UK and the US voted against the resolution, while China, Russia, Mexico, South Africa and Pakistan among others voted in favour.
On Friday, Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general, distanced herself from Thursday’s resolutions.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” she said in a statement.
Jerusalem’s Old City was designated a World Heritage site because of its “universal value … which is an appeal for dialogue, not confrontation”, Bokova said.
“We have a collective responsibility to strengthen this cultural and religious coexistence, by the power of acts and also by the power of words.”