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Let’s talk about what UNESCO resolution does say instead of what it doesn’t

The absence of an affirmation of Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is being exploited to distract from Israeli violations of the status quo, and restrictions on Muslim-Palestinian access to the holy site.

By Tom Pessah

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street in Wadi Joz neighbourhood outside Jerusalem's Old City, as policemen block their way to Al Aqsa mosque, October 17, 2014. The Israeli government has restricted access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest shrine to men under 50. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street outside Jerusalem’s Old City, as Israeli police block their way to Al Aqsa mosque, October 17, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Anti-Semitism, for Netanyahu and much of the Israeli and Jewish press, is clickbait. Mention it and you can all but guarantee almost automatic outrage. Just like advertisers can avoid talking about why a car is expensive by using sexual imagery or even the word “sex” to sell it, the Israeli government can dodge difficult questions about its policy by “anti-Semitizing” those who raise these questions.

UNESCO passed a resolution regarding holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem on Thursday. After “affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” the resolution calls for the restoration of the previous status quo around “Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif and its surroundings.”

The resolution notes that Israel is violating Muslims’ freedom of worship by hindering and preventing their access to the Aqsa Mosque; “deplores the continuous storming” of the mosque compound by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces; decries arrests and injuries of Muslim worshippers in the mosque; and “[r]egrets the damage caused by the Israeli forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, and reaffirms, in this regard, the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship and as an integral part of a world cultural heritage site.”

In a parallel universe, the Israeli prime minister could have promised to do more to uphold Muslims’ freedom of worship and to reassure the Muslim world that Israel is not trying to damage the mosque. Those are real and important issues. Instead, Netanyahu’s reaction was: “to say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China and that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.”

Nowhere in the UNESCO resolution is there any statement invalidating or denying Jews’ connection to Temple Mount: the Jewish connection isn’t discussed in any way, either positively or negatively. It is not mentioned because the resolution is about Israeli damage to a Muslim holy site – Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Beyond that there is no general assessment or rejection of any religion’s connection to the site, apart from an affirmation of “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.”

Could the resolution have preempted some of the negative reactions with a symbolic mention of the term “Temple Mount?” or by acknowledging that it is also a Jewish holy site? Perhaps, but that’s far from the point.

Netanyahu produced the spin, but Israeli journalists of all stripes were eager to spread it. Broadly quoting an Israeli diplomatic source, Haaretz summarized the resolution as “anti-Israel” and says it “disregards Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount and casts doubt on the link between Judaism and the Western Wall.” Not a word about the restrictions Israel places on Muslims’ access to the site and their right to worship, which the resolution discusses in such detail. The Haaretz report also assumed the resolution made reference to the Western Wall, while in practice it only discusses the “Western Wall Plaza,” built in 1967 by cleansing the residents of what had been the Mughrabi Quarter for almost eight centuries. (The official Israeli name for the Plaza is placed in quotation marks in the resolution, which correctly defines Israel as an occupying power obliged to safeguard the cultural heritage of the areas it occupied. No country has ever recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, an area that includes the Old City, Western Wall and Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.)

The spin even affected Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party. Reproducing the Haaretz photo on her Facebook page, Galon wrote that UNESCO “cannot erase years of Jewish history.” Israeli President Rivlin responded by asserting that “no forum or body in the world can say there isn’t a connection between the Jewish People, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem,” reacting yet again to a declaration that was never made. And so on and so forth.

Most importantly, the entire discussion focused on something UNESCO has no power to do – it does not have any power to nullify the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or any holy sites, even if it wanted to. The real-world power to shape the status quo in Jerusalem rests solely in the hands of Israel, not UNESCO. It is what Israel does with that power which we should be focusing on.

Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps the lesson is that just like consumers of online clickbait, we have a choice. We really don’t have to click on a link that says SEX in capital letters. And we really don’t have to help propagate Netanyahu’s spins, which as usual are designed to draw attention away from the real, physical harm that the Occupation is causing.

Tom Pessah is a sociologist and activist.

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    1. Miza

      Here is the actual resolution for everyone to read for yourselves. It is utter gross what the Natanyahu government just pulled.

      unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002462/246215e.pdf …

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “deplores the continuous storming” of the mosque compound by Israeli right-wing extremists”

        Yea? And why are those “right wing extremists storming” (let’s go along with the description). The Temple Mount?

        Because they object to the existing restriction by the Waqf police on Jews saying their prayers while in Judaism’s holiest site, the temple mount.

        The status quo is that the Waqf police have the right to eject Jewish worshipers from the Temple mount if they suspect that they are not just visiting but are praying at the site. And the Arabs are claiming that lately there has been an increase of Jewish visitors doing this. Get it? Jews praying at the Temple Mount.

        Then along comes the UNESCO resolution which was drafted by Arabs and which only mentions the Muslim connection to the Temple Mount. No mention of the Jewish connection. It only mentions pesky Jews who are making trouble by storming the sacred Muslim holy site.

        How is such a resolution NOT an outright denial of the Connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount?!

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “How is such a resolution NOT an outright denial of the Connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount?!”

          Good lord, AJew. Please actually read Tom Pessah’s article. As well as Raimo Kangasniemi’s comment. Pessah’s first paragraph above has Israelis like you pegged.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Israelis like me pegged?

            Oh dear, Israelis like me dare to mention that the temple mount is Judaism’s holiest site and that we don’t like to see our religious folks barred from praying at that site and that we don’t like to see another one sided UN resolution against us which pretend that the Temple Mount is ONLY a Muslim holy site.

            Dear oh dear, will Ben ever forgive us?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            One can’t have a rational conversation with you, Gustav. Whatever point you were trying to make, Dahlia Scheindlin made it better and more coherently and with far less self-righteousness. Where’s the outrage for all the identity-denying things Israel, day in day out, does to the Palestinians? Oh, that doesn’t matter so much does it? Who cares, right? I think Pessah is right, even though, as he acknowledges and Scheindlin elaborates on, this resolution was not the smartest way to go about what it was trying to do. But there is also Reiomo Kangasniemi’s point. Why on earth should anyone trust Israel not to take ruthless advantage of any statement on Jerusalem—why should anyone trust it not to take a mile if given an inch? Why? It has given the world absolutely no reason to.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            ” Where’s the outrage for all the identity-denying things Israel, day in day out, does to the Palestinians?”

            I can’t resist throwing his own accusation at Ben. What’s the word he uses? Oh yeah, “whataboutery”.

            As for Ben’s lamentation about lack of rational conversation, I have long given up on it with him. It is impossible. That is why I talk AT him not WITH him. Unfortunately it is a mirror image as to what is happening in the I-P conflict. That is why I am so pessimistic about the prospects for peace. There aren’t any prospects for it in our time. But I am very optimistic about the prospects for peace in the long term. It WILL happen one day.

            I hope Ben does not bother responding to this post but I know he will want to have the last word. He always does.

            PS
            Dahlia Shnedlin said more or less what I said about the UNESCO vote. How embarrassing for Ben? He is now trying to do a double shuffle to reconcile the two contradictory takes on this lamentable UNESCO vote by two of his political idols. I am sure he will convince himself that what I said is nothing like what Dahlia said. But in essence it IS. Although I also brought up the shameful prohibition which is the status quo. That Jews are not permitted to say their prayers in Judaism’s holiest site. How supremacist is that? What would be the harm in allowing both Muslims and Jews to pray in a site which is holy to BOTH religions?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            We are amused over here at your attempt at a charge of “whataboutery” since the identity-denying things Israel, day in day out, does to the Palestinians is very much on topic and not at all whataboutery.

            Pessah and Scheindlin complement not negate one another, Gustav. Pessah is the rational counterweight to Scheindlin’s rather hysterical identifying with Danon and Netanyahu. Pessah and Scheindlin both hint at the other one’s main point but decisively emphasize different things.

            Scheindlin says: “The heart of the statement is a call on Israel to stop activities that are harming the site and Muslim religious sensibilities, not only in Jerusalem – but also in Hebron and Gaza. Neither Israel nor anyone else will notice that now. To be sure, it is unlikely that Israel would have snapped into action if the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount had been judiciously described with both names. But anyone paying attention would have had to focus on substance rather than distraction. ”

            But the Israeli sense of outrage only goes one way. The Israeli right wing rejoices in distractions such as this. The useful response to this resolution if one really wants a final status accord is to insist that, with the API as the blueprint, a final status accord include recognition be given to the Temple Mount history and Jewish history, and that not just the city of Jerusalem but the holy site be shared, including for prayer. Israel loudly insists ahead of time and at every chance it gets that it will not share the city of Jerusalem. Then it is outraged that the Palestinians will not share the holy site. Always, always, Israel uses “they don’t want us here” to conclude that “so naturally we have to grab it all, that’ll solve things.”

            “What would be the harm in allowing both Muslims and Jews to pray in a site which is holy to BOTH religions?”

            Nothing. I support it. Israel should definitely make it part of final status talks. Of course Israel always wants its concerns addressed first and pronto and then it might–maybe someday possibly we’ll talk about it and you should ‘lower your expectations’–address the other side’s glaring and extremely pressing 48 year concerns. Natch.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “harming the site and Muslim religious sensibilities”

            https://www.jfsatx.org/jta/1181581

            “JERUSALEM (JTA) — Muslim worshippers attacked two Jewish men on the Temple Mount on Tuesday after the Jews bowed in prayer in violation of the visiting rules.

            The Jewish men were beaten as they prostrated themselves. The Muslims clashed with police attempting to protect the Jewish visitors, who were ejected from the site.

            A video of the incident posted on social media by a Palestinian news website shows dozens of Muslim worshippers punching police trying to protect the men, who are still on the ground. The police then push back.

            Jewish prayer is forbidden at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. The Temple Mount is administered by Jordan’s Muslim Wakf.”

            Imagine if Jews would be under occupation by Arabs and Jews would be allowed to bar prayers by Arabs at Arab holy sites. What would happen to Jews if they then would beat up Arabs who break the rules and pray at their own holy site?

            One has to wonder what Ben thinks would happen to Jews doing that to Arabs?

            I bet Ben will not answer this question. He will just rant, rave and side track again as usual.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            What would happen to Jews [in the entire expanse of the occupied territories] if they then would beat up Arabs who break the rules and [fill in the blank]. One has to wonder what Ben thinks would happen to Jews doing that to Arabs?

            I don’t have to guess or wonder nor do you. We all know. Absolutely nothing would happen to those Jews. It (nothing happening to Jews) happens all the time. Day after day. I could supply fifty links. Read any one of Yossi Gurvitz’s posts here. Have you not read the “License to Kill” series? In fact, there was recently a report here that soldiers, in plain violation of the rules of engagement, shot and killed a completely innocent Palestinian driver out buying something for his wife. And who got sent to jail? Not the soldiers, for sure, but the innocent passenger in the murdered man’s car! Honestly, you are so unaware of your overweening self-righteousness.

            Reply to Comment
        • brightdarkness

          I always like the stories about ‘settlers storming’ and/or ‘performing Talmudic rituals’. The pictures always show a small group of men, women, and children respectfully walking with a guide while be chased by a bunch of harpies screaming at them. Oh and the occasional palestinian child playing soccer on their ‘holy’ place.

          Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            “Talmudic rituals”…and this negative comment coming from Muslims who keep claiming they hold Jews and Judaism in the highest regard. Yeah.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Henry Lowi

      Jewish people have a spiritual and religious connection to Jerusalem. Any political authority in Jerusalem should recognize that connection, and facilitate access by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others, to all the sites in Jerusalem. Jordan, as the occupying power, did a terrible job. Israel, as the occupying power, is doing a terrible job. Ending the Israeli occupation, and establishing an inclusive, non-sectarian, and democratic Palestine, is the way to secure an inclusive, non-sectarian, and democratic policy and practice in Jerusalem.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        “Ending the Israeli occupation, and establishing an inclusive, non-sectarian, and democratic Palestine, is the way to secure an inclusive, non-sectarian, and democratic policy and practice in Jerusalem.”

        Fantastic. Jerusalem should be protected as an international treasure to many faiths and no religion given hegemony.

        Reply to Comment
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