UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Association, announced a number of resolutions just before the weekend started.
One, submitted by the Russian Federation, called for defining UNESCO’s role in safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian World Heritage sites. Another was about “Enhancing UNESCO’s contributions to promote a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.”
A third was simply entitled “Occupied Palestine” and addressed the Jerusalem Old City hotspot that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Except that the Jewish link to the site, considered the holiest place for Jews, went unmentioned.
In the context of Jerusalem’s Old City, the document refers to Israel solely as “the occupying power” and refers to the site itself, the world famous esplanade flanked by the Western Wall – considered by many experts to be the last existing retaining wall of the mount that once held the ancient Jewish temples – only by its Islamic moniker.
The decision refers to the plaza fronting the Western Wall only in quotation marks, except when using one of its Arabic names, Al-Buraq, a reference to the Prophet Mohammed’s ascent to heaven.
The Israeli government responded with fury.
“This is yet another absurd UN decision,” an incandescent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released late on Saturday. “UNESCO ignores the unique historic connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount, where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years. The UN is rewriting a basic part of human history and has again proven that there is no low to which it will not stoop.”
Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israel’s representative to UNESCO, that has its seat in Paris, issued a press release declaring that “even if UNESCO passes dozens of resolutions, and decides to continue passing thousands more, Jerusalem will always remain as part of the capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”
On Saturday night, addressing Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, the nations which presented the resolution, Shama Hacohen averred that, “As you continue on this path of incitement, lies and terror you will be sending UNESCO down a path towards irrelevance.”
The Jordan Times reveled: “Jordan triumphant in ‘diplomatic showdown’ over Jerusalem at UNESCO.”
Jews are permitted to visit the site at pre-arranged times, but under international agreements signed in 1967, when Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war, Jewish worship is banned.
Without citing specifics, the resolution also condemned Israel for “planting fake Jewish graves in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” and for “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”
A UNESCO spokesman declined to comment on the decision.
The Israeli government also declined to comment beyond the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The resolution, considered a victory for anti-Israel hard-liners, also affirms that Hebron, a city that according to a most histories has a 3000-year history of Jewish life, and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are “are an integral part of Palestine.”
Referencing “ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalīl/Hebron, that harmfully affect the integrity of the site, and the subsequent denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship,” UNESCO also urged “Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions.”
This resolution is not the first attempt to designate anew holy sites in what may be the most contested spot in the Middle East.
In October, 2015, facing the rejection of Russia, China and even Cuba, that usually joins anti-Israel initiatives, the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO withdrew a proposed resolution that would have defined the Western Wall itself as an “integral part” of the compound holy to Muslims.
Anwar Ben Badis, a professor of Arabic and Aramaic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Al-Quds University, who often leads tours of the esplanade, said the decision was “unequivocally political, not legal or binding in any way, but at attempt to support and further the Palestinian struggle.”
Speaking with The Media Line, Ben Badis said he believes “that every decision provides international support to everything the Palestinians are doing to free Al-Aqsa and all of Palestine.”
Bethlehem’s Christian Arab leaders lobbied Israel against transferring the city to the Palestinian Authority. Thus, in 1993, on the eve of signing the Oslo Accords, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, urged then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to annex Bethlehem to Greater Jerusalem, as it was under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule of the area, predicting that “transferring Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority would relegate it to a town of many churches, but devoid of Christians.”
Before Oslo, the Christian mayor of Beit Jala — Bethlehem’s twin town — Farah al-Araj, told the late New York Times syndicated columnist William Safire: “The PLO will force a wave of Christian emigration, making Belize in Central America a home for more Beit Jala Christians then left in Beit Jala.” In 1967, shortly following the Six-Day War, then Mayor of Bethlehem Elias Bandak, a Christian, warned then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: “An Israeli failure to annex Bethlehem to Greater Jerusalem would doom the city’s Christian character.”
Since the 1993 establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the Christian majorities of Ramallah — Mahmoud Abbas’ headquarters — Bethlehem and Beit Jala have been transformed into insignificant minorities, due to physical, social, economic, legal and political intimidation. More Christian emigrants from these towns reside in Latin America than Christians remaining there.
The violent discrimination of Christians has been a systematic feature of Muslim Arab societies. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, Christians were murdered, expelled or converted until the 10th century. Currently, non-Muslims cannot become Saudi citizens and Christians working in — or visiting — Saudi Arabia are not allowed to worship, or display Christian items (Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, etc.), openly. While Egyptian President, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has attempted to minimize the traditional intimidation of Egypt’s Coptic Christian (10%) minority — which possesses ancient Pharaonic roots — the abduction of Coptic women and girls has been routine and Copts face deep-seated discrimination in all walks of life. Moreover, conversion to Christianity is prohibited under Islam. While physical assaults on Coptic communities were a daily occurrence during the brief rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, it has become a monthly event under el-Sissi.
The persecution of Christians in Arab lands is based on the teachings of Muhammad, which dominates the social, political, cultural, judicial, military and educational aspects of the Muslim Middle East. Therefore, the political establishments in Muslim Arab countries are not secular in the Western sense. According to the Quran, Jews and Christians — “the people of the book” who rejected Islam — transgressed egregiously, were the enemies of God, were rejected by God, causing Judaism and Christianity to be replaced by — and subordinated to — Islam, the only legitimate and inherently supreme religion. Islam commands Muslims to pursue the domination of the “House of Islam” over the “House of the infidel,” which includes Christians. Hence, the centrality of jihad, the holy war.
A typical Quranic reference to Christians and other “infidels” appears in Surah 5:60 and 86: “God cursed and blustered those whom he transformed to apes [Jews] and pigs [Christians]. … The infidels shall inherit hell.”
The submission of Christians and other “infidels” to Islam was further institutionalized under the seventh-century Pact of Umar, which severely restrained and humiliated Christians — and later extended to other “infidels” — consistent with the Quran.
In fact, the legalized persecution and scapegoating of Christians are in accordance with the Muslim concept of “dhimmis,” who are the non-Muslim citizens in Muslim lands. As stipulated by the Islamic code of law (the Shariah), they are subordinated to and protected by Islam as long as they accept Islamic supremacy. The attitude towards the dhimmis is specified in the Quran 9:29: “Fight the people who received the book [Jews and Christians] — who do not adhere to the truthful religion [Islam] — until they pay the jizya [infidel tax], while they are humiliated.” Non-Muslim citizens are faced with three choices: conversion to Islam, accepting dhimmitude or death.
Since the 1683 defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna, Islam has declined dramatically, witnessing the rise to global domination by the “infidel, inferior and arrogant” Christian world, and alarmed by the penetration of “infidel” ideologies and values into the “abode of Islam.” This perceived humiliation has led to tectonic eruptions of Islamic rage and terrorism, aimed at regaining the, supposedly, inherently supreme, megalomaniacal status of Islam.
Also, the Islamic religious and political establishments consider the “infidel” Christian/Western modernity and civil liberties clear, present and lethal threats, which fuel endemic domestic instability. Furthermore, the recent erosion of the Western posture of deterrence, as well as Western appeasement and retreats, have provided a tailwind to the Islamic surge, fueling the anti-Christian/Western Islamic rage in spite of the generally pro-Arab Christian/Western policy (including the U.S. arms embargo during Israel’s War of Independence, while the British supplied arms to the Arabs; punishing Israel for destroying Iraq’s nuclear reactor; pressuring Israel to redivide Jerusalem; and President Barack Obama’s courting of Muslim regimes and condemnation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies).
While most of the Christian/Western world pressures Israel to accept Palestinian demands, a common battle cry in Palestinian Authority-inspired rallies is: “After Saturday comes Sunday,” which communicates a Muslim warning to Christian minorities throughout the Arab world: Muslims will do away with Christians after they have dealt with the Jews!
As befits the fate of dhimmis, churches, convents, monasteries, Christian cemeteries, schools, homes, land and Christian women in the Palestinian Authority are subject to desecration, destruction, burning, confiscation, intimidation, rape and harassment. For example, in April-May 2002, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity — with its priests and nuns — was hijacked, looted and booby-trapped for 39 days by Palestinian terrorists.
The 1970-1982 Palestinian terror surge in Lebanon accelerated the flight of Lebanese Christians, reducing them from the ruling sector to a dwindling minority. Since 1993, the Palestinian Authority intimidation of Christians has intensified the flight of Christians. However, the Vatican and most Christian and Western governments have — knowingly — sacrificed the religious and civil liberties of Christian minorities — and their very existence — on the altar of wishful thinking, political correctness and appeasement.