Unesco approves Arab resolution criticising Israel

PARIS • The United Nations cultural body Unesco approved a resolution from a group of Arab states yesterday criticising Israel for failing to protect heritage sites and rebuild regions destroyed by war.

The final version of the draft resolution was changed at the last minute to remove a controversial clause saying the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site at which Jews can pray, is an “integral part” of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Israel had denounced the clause as “a clear endeavour to distort history”, and yesterday criticised the new resolution.

The flashpoint compound, which is considered sacred to both Islam and Judaism, is located in the south eastern corner of the Old City in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.

Muslims call it Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), while Jews revere it as the Temple Mount which housed the First and Second Temples.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at the compound last month are widely thought to have led to the current wave of deadly violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The resolution approved yesterday – which was drafted by Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates – condemns Israeli actions at the compound, including restricting access to Muslim worshippers during Eid celebrations last month on security grounds.

It was supported by 26 of the 58 member countries on Unesco’s executive board, while 25 members abstained.

Six countries – including the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Estonia – opposed it, while one member was absent.

The resolution “deeply deplores the recent repression in East Jerusalem, and the failure of Israel, the Occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City”.

It also calls for the “prompt reconstruction of schools, universities, cultural heritage sites, cultural institutions, media centres and places of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by the consecutive Israeli wars on Gaza”.

The new resolution was criticised by Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom.

“Unesco is a very, very hostile organisation towards Israel. Unfortunately, most of the votes are against Israel,” Mr Shalom said, referring to the fact that Arab states frequently team up for resolutions against the country.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Unesco approves Arab resolution criticising Israel'. Print Edition | Subscribe