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Israel spars with the world at UNESCO

The latest bout between Israel and UNESCO suggests that the world is warming up to Israel’s conflation of the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Jerusalem with its claim to exclusive sovereignty over the city.

By Talya Ezrahi and Yonathan Mizrachi

The Dome of Rock is seen in the background of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City as thousands of Jewish worshippers participated in the Cohen Benediction priestly prayer for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 5, 2009. (Miriam Alster / FLASH90)

The Dome of Rock is seen in the background of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands of Jewish worshippers participated in the Cohen Benediction priestly prayer for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 5, 2009. (Miriam Alster / FLASH90)

Israel’s success at UNESCO this week was a diplomatic coup. In a work of crafty diplomacy, Israel succeeded in undermining an agreement between the Arab states and 11 EU countries which softened the wording of a resolution that it believes disputes its claims to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, we are told that as a result of heavy pressure by Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry, more countries opposed a UNESCO resolution concerning Israel than had in years.

Why did Israel invest so much effort into foiling a resolution it ought to have regarded as less objectionable?

Unlike previous UNESCO resolutions, this one cannot be construed as a denial of the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Jerusalem. It omits any references to the Temple Mount by its Muslim name, Haram al-Sharif, or to al-Aqsa Mosque — references which had so outraged Israel in the past. The new resolution also includes a clause affirming the importance of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions.

So why object? Because the resolution continues the tradition of calling Israel the “occupying power” in East Jerusalem and declares the Basic Law on Jerusalem (through which Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem) null and void. And on the eve of Israel’s celebration of 50 years since the “liberation of Jerusalem,” anyone who dares call into question the legitimacy of Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem, or its right to crown a united Jerusalem as its capital will face the full force of Israel’s diplomatic machine.

But what might appear to be just another diplomatic victory actually suggests something much more profound: the beginnings of the international community accepting Israel’s conflation of the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Jerusalem with its claim to exclusive sovereignty over the city.

Although this latest UNESCO resolution does not call into question the Jewish people’s bonds with Jerusalem, Israel’s level of indignation remains the same because the resolution reiterates the international community’s objection to Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem as an occupying power. The Israeli government will not allow a distinction to be made between an acknowledgement of the Jewish people’s cultural, historical and religious connection to Jerusalem on the one hand, and its right to exclusive sovereignty on the other. And for now it looks like “the world” might be beginning to follow suit.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in ‘The Pilgrims’ tunnel under East Jerusalem, December 26, 2016. (Regev’s Facebook)

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in ‘The Pilgrims’ tunnel under East Jerusalem, December 26, 2016. (Regev’s Facebook)

Another clause in the resolution assailed Israel for the persistent excavations and tunneling in and around the Old City. This is part of the same story. For the past two decades Israel has spared no effort or money in reshaping Jerusalem’s historic landscape and creating tourist routes that are dominated by a narrative of Jewish belonging.

It seems that every month or two we are treated to a statement (usually following a discovery during excavations) by Netanyahu or one of his ministers about how archaeology proves our rights in the city. The excavations of hundreds of square meters under houses in the Muslim Quarter and the planned construction of two massive buildings — the Kedem Center, just outside the Old City Walls, and Beit HaLiba in the Western Wall plaza — are just some of the mega projects changing Jerusalem’s landscape and flattening its multi-layered heritage.

The increasing cooperation between government authorities and right-wing settler groups demonstrates the extent to which Israel has adopted the settlers’ strategy of using archaeological sites as a means to take over territory and dominate the historical narrative.

Places like the City of David and the Western Wall Tunnels, which overwhelmingly emphasize the story of Jewish continuity in the city while underplaying or omitting other periods and people, serve an agenda that seeks to frame Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem as non-negotiable. The vast investment in bringing school children, soldiers and tourists to these sites reflects an expectation that visiting these sites will convince the Jewish Israeli public of its exclusive rights to the city.

But even the most impressive artifacts cannot blind us to the fact that East Jerusalem is disputed territory. Alongside the impressive remains associated with the history of the Jewish people, Jerusalem is rich with remains from other periods of history, from the Canaanite period to modern times.

The Palestinians also have historical, religious and political claims on this city. Netanyahu can repeat over and over again statements like “there is no other people for whom Jerusalem is as holy as for the Jewish people,” as he did to attack UNESCO this week. But that doesn’t change the fact that Jerusalem is a multi-layered city with a multicultural history and present.

Strong-arming the international community into watering down or opposing critical resolutions at the UN might seem like a victory for Israel in the short term, but in the long term we all lose out. There are members of other nations, faiths and cultures who feel that Jerusalem belongs to them. This is not going to change.

A sustainable solution for Jerusalem will only be possible once Israel can accommodate a political framework that acknowledges the rights of other communities to this city, and treats its precious historical resources as assets to be shared, not private property to be exploited in the service of exclusive claims.

The writers work for Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO which promotes archaeology as a resource for building bridges between peoples and nations.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Usual leftist old claptrap…

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Any sort of “political division” of the city will mean the destruction of the city. The Arabs of Jerusalem know that very well and many, or even most, don’t want that to happen, even if they don’t like Israel. I have encountered “progressives” who have replied to this point by saying “so what, as long as the Jews don’t have it”. Some Israelis, old-line MERETZ-type Leftsts say “what do we need Jerusalem for, it is a city full of dosim (religious Jews) and Arabs?”. So we see there are various groups who would welcome overturning the city we see functioning now.

      The Arabs had the chance to show how tolerant and enlightened they are (as compared to the nefarious Zionist Jews) between 1948 and 1967 by honoring the armistice agreement they themselves signed which called for allowing Jews to visit the Jewish holy sites, but, alas they felt it was more important to prevent that and to tear up the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Har HaZetim (Mt of Olives) and destroying the 50+ synagogues and yeshivot in the Old City. Before 1948 they also had the chance to show how tolerant they were to Jews praying at the Western Wall, but they spent their time trying to disrupt the prayers there by throwing garbage there, or attacking Jews making their way there, or by getting the British to impose all sorts of restrictions on the prayer services there, such as banning the blowing of the Shofar.

      Yes, they had their chance, but they blew it. Most Jews are not willing to take the chance, no matter what “progressives” like Emek Shaveh say.

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      I am not sure what Emek Shaveh thinks they are going to accomplish by “Using archaelogy for building bridges” between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, since the official Palestinian position is that there never was a Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem, so presumably they would say any Jewish archaeological finds Emek Shaveh might want to promote would be dismissed as frauds and forgeries by the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        There are roughly 6.5 million Jews and 6.5 million Palestinians in Greater Israelistine.
        Two states, one state or some kind of apartheid-like arrangement where one population controls the other?

        Choose.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Bruce

          There are far more options that that.

          Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Why don’t you mention that the vast majority of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria are under the control of the “Palestinian authority”. In the C zone the Arab population is really limited in number.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Why?
            Because all of the Arabs in all areas of the West Bank are under, at most, nominal PA civil control, but full Israeli military control. Even in Area A the PA operates at the discretion of the Israeli military and the Israeli Army makes incursions into Area A routinely. And the ability of Palestinians to travel within the West Bank and to enter and leave the West Bank is severely restricted by Israel. At all points. Restriction of movement is at the heart of the occupation.
            And because Area C is a temporary designation that was meant to lead to a final status accord and was in no sense intended to be permanent, and Israel does not own Area C and annexation of Area C is not an “option” that is going to contribute to a solution to the conflict.
            That’s why.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Absolutely not. The areas under the control of the “Palestinian” entity are wide enough to travel. Thousands and thousands of Arabs get out from this entity every day to work in Israeli companies. Everything is made according to the Oslo agreements signed by Arafat, including for C zone.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Educate yourself, Halevy:

            https://972mag.com/an-agreement-on-indefinite-occupation-oslo-celebrates-19-years/55788/

            “…But regardless of the things Oslo was meant to be, it’s clear – and way more important – what it has become: the primary legal tool serving the occupation… As Oslo – signed as an interim accord for six years – enters its twentieth year, it’s becoming clear that the only thing that the Palestinians got from the agreement was the right to raise their flag, given to them on day one. Today, Oslo is the occupation. The sooner we get rid of it, the better.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            I do not think that they were obliged to sign.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Mike B

      “The Palestinians also have historical, religious and political claims on this city”
      What are the religious and political claims that are unique to Palestinians and not Arab as a whole?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        For one thing, they live there. But what are the religious and political claims that are unique to Israelis and not Jews as a whole?

        Reply to Comment
    5. JeffB

      the beginnings of the international community accepting Israel’s conflation of the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Jerusalem with its claim to exclusive sovereignty over the city.

      Israel is transforming Jerusalem from an Arab city with a Jewish majority to a Jewish city surrounded by Jewish suburbs with Muslim sections. At the end of the day if the international community wants stuff to actually happen on the ground the government they need to speak with is Israel.

      What’s the upside in refusing to recognize reality and pretending the facts aren’t real?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        This is called ‘colonization’.

        See Gershon Shafir’s “A Half Century of Occupation”

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Bruce

          I think you are equivocating here. Yes that is colonization in the classic sense of a people moving in and inhabiting an area. It is not colonization in the sense it is often used as a people taking control of a subject people. The Israelis are transforming the city not subjugating it so as to remove resources. So sure the Israelis are colonizing in the classic way every city was colonized.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @ JeffB: You misuse “equivocating.” Bruce, with a simple declarative sentence, is doing the opposite. You, in the three sentences that follow, actually substantially equivocate. So that is confusion number one. But you do more than equivocate. You arrive at a falsehood: “The Israelis are transforming the city not subjugating it.” And then we have the qualifier: “so as to remove resources.” As if it never occurred to you that the relentless taking of precious urban land and property from Palestinians and the relentless denial to them of building permits, and the relentless encircling of Jerusalem in E1 and elsewhere so as to cut off Palestinian access was not a removing of resources from non-Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem and the West Bank. And a subjugating. And then the cherry on top: “So sure the Israelis are colonizing in the classic way every city was colonized”–a JeffB classic in itself, that takes back what JeffB equivocated about not really totally colonizing.

            Backing up to your previous comment–“Israel is transforming Jerusalem from an Arab city with a Jewish majority to a Jewish city surrounded by Jewish suburbs with Muslim sections”—this is a sentence stuffed to the gills with misleading characterizations and euphemisms. For colonizing.

            Underneath the veneer of polite American civics class and urban planning talk, what you are engaging in here and elsewhere, whether you know it or not, is Feiglinism. As explained by Tomer Persico in the essay I link to on this page:
            https://972mag.com/what-does-the-future-hold-for-non-jews-in-the-jewish-state/127057/

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            requiring the natives to do work so as to get the crops = colonizing
            working the land yourself to get the crops = farming

            Taking the land for the purpose of living in it is not colonizing. As for “encircling with E1” that’s building the ring of suburbs. Cutting off is assuming a paradigm that contradicts itself.

            If the West Bank is not Israel then Israel shouldn’t care whether its people are cutoff or not from a foreign country. This is the same “cutting off” that occurred along the Canadian / American border, it is what it means to have borders. If the West Bank is Israel then E1 is not cutting anything off, it is just developing land.

            The Israelis exist. They have to live somewhere. Stop demonizing humans engaging in human behavior.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Ze’ev Sternhell was describing Israel but he did a good job of describing you and what you do here. “The blowup with Germany showed that the world is beginning to tire of Israel, of its slick sanctimoniousness and slippery, olive oil-coated arguments, of its blindness to Palestinian suffering and indifference to their human rights, of its cynicism concerning apartheid in the territories…”

            We are used to you by now, JeffB, and quite used to your oily, slippery evasions and euphemisms. So let’s take the greasy mechanism apart:

            Slippery euphemism and evasion: “Taking the land for the purpose of living in it”
            Slippery euphemism and evasion: “building the ring of suburbs”
            Slippery evasion: “If the West Bank is not Israel.” (It’s not.)
            Same slippery evasion compounded with a false analogy: ‘same “cutting off” that occurred along the Canadian / American border, it is what it means to have borders’
            Slippery euphemism: “it is just developing land”
            Oily ignoring of the obvious: “The Israelis exist. They have to live somewhere.” (They have a place to live.)
            Habara hack-word with anti-semitizing subtext (“demonizing”) combined with really icky, oily Orwellian euphemism: “Stop demonizing humans engaging in human behavior.”

            You draw my particular attention, JeffB, because while others here are more or less open about their Feiglinism, you cloak yours in oily American civics class and urban planning patter.
            I note you have no response on Persico’s essay on Feiglin.
            And that you ran away as well from this confrontation on May 2nd without answering me:
            https://972mag.com/guess-which-of-these-human-rights-israel-guarantees-to-palestinians/126987/

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            “Taking the land for the purpose of living in it is not colonizing.”

            *clap clap clap* Congratulations, Jeff. People have poured thousands of hours delving into primary documentation, writing academic works totaling tens of thousands of pages (okay, that’s a rough estimate) and in one crystal-clear, concisely-worded sentence you have accomplished what they could not.

            You’ve proven Nazi Germany was in no way colonizing Eastern Europe.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Tom

      Jerusalem has been and always been the one undisputed capital of Israel. Palestinian claims are nearly non existant. Weak UNESCO prononcement is a good thing. Arab states voted for it. Europe voted against it. The deligitamizing of Jewish Israel tide is turning. Good.

      Reply to Comment
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