On June 5, UNESCO ratified a decision to add the Old City of Hebron to the list of World Heritage sites that are endangered, responding favorably to a request of the Permanent Delegation of Palestine.
While our focus here is Jerusalem, the flood of accusations that were voiced against UNESCO for this resolution is another important manifestation of the same syndrome we saw with respect to UNESCO’s latest resolution on Jerusalem. UNESCO is again accused of denying Jewish ties to a holy site, this time the Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron - despite the fact that the resolution includes no mention of sovereignty in regard to Hebron or to the religious attachment of any religion to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (the site is not mentioned in the text of the decision, which solely focuses on Hebron’s Old City - H2). The Palestinians played into Israel's hands by agreeing with Israel's misconstruing the text, and claiming it as a victory.
Similar to UNESCO’s resolution on Jerusalem, on which we reported previously, the Hebron resolution has been the target of strong criticism by the Israeli government - criticism that is disconnected from what the text actually says. Indeed, the attacks on UNESCO began before the text was even public; once the text became public, those attacks didn’t change. Indeed, virtually nobody set the record straight, leading to the conclusion that many if not most people wading into this debate either never read the text or don’t care what it actually says. Regrettably, no one in the UN is pushing back as the organization and its reputation are being sullied, and this is another example of silent capitulation to Netanyahu's occupation denial. And no one in the press seems to feel compelled to actually look at the text. Post-factual news.
Even the most “serious” newspapers (Haaretz, NYT, Washington Post as well as others) contributed to the spreading of distorted information, by asserting that UNESCO’s resolution recognizes Hebron as a “Palestinian site,” despite the fact that the decision does not designate the site as Palestinian (as only a few columnists correctly attempted to explain). It does mention Palestine next to the name of the site, as a reference to the site’s location - a location that even according to Israeli law is not located within Israel’s sovereign territory. This mention, as stipulated in article 11.3 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, does not attribute sovereignty to the site or prejudice the rights of other parties.
What the reaction to the UNESCO’s resolution shows again is that too often in issues related to Israel-Palestine, facts simply do not matter. The substance of the Hebron resolution, like the resolution on Jerusalem, was ignored, while the occasion of the decision was exploited by members of the Israeli government to score political points. They and their supporters, in Israel and abroad, celebrated the decision with attacks against a text that does not exist, in order to demonizer anyone who still dares to speak the truth and say that the West Bank and East Jerusalem remain under Israeli occupation.
Likewise, the resolution was seized as an opportunity by settlers to strengthen their claim over the city and receive additional support from the government for that purpose. So far this support takes the form of five million dollars that will be cut from Israel’s UN membership dues and transferred instead to advance the construction of “The Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People” in Kiryat Arba and Hebron (see Prime Minister’s statement here) - with further additional support expected to come. It has also served as an excuse for the government to speed up the approval process for the construction of the highly controversial Kedem complex, owned by the Elad organization, in the heart of Silwan, which was announced against the background of the UNESCO’s decision.