Photo: Gil Yohanan
Cave of the Patriarchs
Photo: Gil Yohanan

UNESCO declares Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian World Heritage Site

Israel efforts fails to foil Arab resolution to recognize Hebron's Old City—and in it the Cave of the Patriarchs—as a Palestinian World Heritage Site passes with 12 voting for, 3 against, and 6 abstained.

The Heritage Committee of the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted on Friday a Palestinian request to declare Hebron's Old City—and with it the Cave of the Patriarchs—as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, raising ire in Israel.



Israel's efforts to foil the resolution failed after 12 member states voted in favor of the resolution, three voted against it, and six abstained.


By the same decision, Hebron's Old City was also put on UNESCO's list of world heritage in danger. The resolution was fast-tracked on the basis that the site was under threat, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of an "alarming" number of violations, including vandalism and damage to properties.


The Cave of the Patriarchs (Photo: Gil Yohanan) (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Cave of the Patriarchs (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


"We've done all we could and beyond that," Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel said after the vote, visibly upset. "The Poles reneged on our agreement with them and sold us out to benefit the Arab gang."


The Israeli ambassador also said a phone call he had just received from his plumber was more important than the "disgraceful" decision UNESCO made.


"I'm sure the Israeli government will consider how to respond, including sticks and carrots to the relevant bodies, to ensure Jewish life and heritage in Hebron will not only not suffer, but prosper," he added.


Shama-Hacohen also slammed the mayor of Hebron, who was at the UNESCO gathering, reminding member states the mayor was a convicted terrorist with Israeli blood on his hands.


Shama-Hacohen speaks at UNESCO    (צילום: UNESCO)

Shama-Hacohen speaks at UNESCO


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The Palestinians called the decision made by UNESCO despite US and Israeli opposition a "success" for Palestinian diplomacy.


"This vote is a success for the diplomatic battle fought by Palestine on all fronts, in the face of Israeli and American pressure on member states," the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said.


"Despite a frantic Israeli campaign spreading lies and distorting the facts about the Palestinian rights, the world has recognized our right to register Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty. The Israeli occupation of our country does not grant it sovereignty over any part of our land," the statement added.


Rula Maayah, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, said in a statement the decision was a "historical development because it stressed that Hebron" and its historic mosque "historically belong to the Palestinian people." 


Hebron claims to be one of the oldest cities in the world, dating from the Chalcolithic period or more than 3,000 years BC, the UNESCO resolution said.


At various times it has been conquered by Romans, Jews, Crusaders and Mamluks.


The city is home to the imposing Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of key Biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and one of the most important religious sites to Muslims and Jews alike.


The Cave of the Patriarchs, known to the Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, is holy to both faiths and has long been a flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Failed Israeli efforts to foil vote 

While Poland, Croatia and Jamaica asked for a secret ballot vote on the resolution to enable at least one nation that doesn't have diplomatic ties with Israel to vote against the resolution, the vote was not held in a voting booth, but rather out in the open with each representative marking their vote on the ballot from their seats.


"Despite the agreement with the Polish chairman, who promised to ensure the secret ballot vote will be done in a voting booth, the 'secret' vote was held in front of all, in the middle of the hall, with dozens of eyes and cameras around every voting representatives," Shama-Hacohen said. "This nixed the possibility one Arab nation would vote for us."


Arab nations were also able to thwart Israeli efforts to soften the resolution's language, bringing the original resolution draft from June 30 to a vote instead of an amended version.


The initial version distorted and misrepresented an International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) report, which determined the Palestinian claim does not meet any of the three criteria needed for recognition of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Hebron's Old City as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. Furthermore, ICOMOS determined, the Palestinian request ignores most of the Jewish and Christian history of the site.


The recommendations section of the Palestinian resolution draft removed findings from the report unfavorable to the Palestinians, leaving only the claim that Israel refused to allow the ICOMOS delegation access to the site.


Upon discovering this, Shama-Hacohen turned to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who ordered the document be altered accordingly. But the Arab nations protested the change, and the committee decided to vote on the original language.  


Comparison between Holocaust victims and Palestinians

Before the vote, Shama-Hacohen slammed Cuba for refusing to stand during a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and instead asking to stand in memory of Palestinian victims.


Shama-Hacohen, who himself refused to stand in the moment of silence for the Palestinian victims, said he did not regret his decision.


"No one here has any right to preach me for refusing to take a part in a cynical shameful act of political charade, which has nothing to do with human dignity and everything to do with a deep contempt for humanity," he said, further asserting that "The request for a moment of silence was made maliciously and timed deliberately."


Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen
Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen


"Cuba, a state whose glory stands only for being a criminal dictatorship and a violator of human rights, stooped so low as to create a parallel – a shocking and deplorable parallel – between the victims of the Holocaust and victims of a violent political confrontation," he continued.


"The Holocaust stands alone in its atrocities; stands alone in its cruelty; stands alone in its systematic and industrial human butchery. It is like nothing else nor should it ever repeat itself. Never again," he stressed.


The Israeli ambassador also charged that "It is no secret that the Palestinian Authority, including its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, view as heroes these terrorists who cold-bloodedly murder babies in their cribs, sniping at toddlers held in their fathers’ arms. To them they are 'Shaheeds' and victims. Are these the kind of people you expect me to pay tribute to? Fatah, Hamas, ISIS, al-Qaeda?"


Shama-Hacohen didn't spare his rod from the German ambassador either, after the latter failed to condemn the Cuban ambassador's behavior.


"Does Germany really see no difference between the victims of the Holocaust and Palestinian murderers and terrorists?" Shama-Hacohen asked the German ambassador in anger. "Is there no difference between Anne Frank and a Palestinian teenager stabbing innocent Jewish children with knives? I asked you to clarify your shameful act and you insist not to do it."


The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report.


פרסום ראשון: 07.07.17, 09:38
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