Israel is refusing to allow a UNESCO investigatory team to make a field visit to Hebron in advance of a pending July vote to register its Old City on the list of World Heritage in Danger under the “State of Palestine.”
This is a “principled and strategic” stand, said Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, Carmel Shama Hacohen.
Hebron’s Old City, including the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is one of 35 sites the World Heritage Committee plans to consider for inscription on the World Heritage List when it meets in Krakow, Poland, July 2-12.
Since UNESCO recognised Palestine as a member state in 2011, the Palestinian Authority has fast tracked inscription of two other sites on the list of World Heritage in Danger – the Church of the Nativity and Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem in 2012 and the ancient terraces of Battir in 2014. They are looking to do the same with the Cave of the Patriarchs saying it is endangered and that Israel’s actions are causing damage to the site.
The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a professional body that investigates nomination requests and provides recommendations for inscription on the list of World Heritage in Danger, had recommended, after making field visits to both sites, that those nominations go through the normal process.
However, the 21-member World Heritage Committee rejected the ICOMOS conclusions not to place the Church of the Nativity and terraces of Battir on its endangered list. Israel decided it would reject the request to make a field visit as it is “a shame to waste the time and money” of ICOMOS, said Shama HaCohen, when the committee will simply ignore their recommendations.
It is important to note that the World Heritage Committee’s normal practice is to adhere to the recommendations of ICOMOS, but when it comes to issues regarding Israel WHC seems to take a different approach away from sound reasoning.
“Israel won’t take part in and won’t legitimize any Palestinian political moves under the guise of culture and heritage,” HaCohen said.
In a previous interview HaCohen said, “this is a clear continuation of the attacks and hallucinatory outrageous votes in UNESCO regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.” He was drawing a clear link between the two battles for Israel’s Jewish heritage.
If the 21-member committee approves the PA’s request, it would mark the first time that a Jewish holy site under Israeli control was registered to the “State of Palestine.”