This week I have been reading about the recent dispute between Israel and UNESCO about Temple Mount, also known as Haram Al-Sharif – a site that features in all three of the Abrahamic religious texts, and was inscribed by UNESCO in 1981. This is a tricky subject to approach, and I have noticed that the UK media hasn’t been giving the story much coverage.

Last Wednesday, UNESCO passed a resolution on the status of Jerusalem as an endangered site. The site is to remain on the list, but the resolution also criticized Israel for its refusal to allow experts on to the site to assess its needs and determine which conservation measures need to be taken. The Israeli government, indignant about the fact that only the Arabic names were used in the document, hit back at UNESCO claiming that their actions were undermining the Jewish connections to the site and worse, accusing them of anti-Israel bias and worse still, accusing them of trying to erase Jewish history.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it is possible to separate heritage from politics, or politics from religion. Israel are accusing UNESCO of politicizing religion, while supporters of UNESCO are accusing Israel of exactly the same thing. Israel has already suspended funding to UNESCO, as a protest against the inclusion of Palestine as a member state.

Here, UNESCO has not been tactful, however truthful their statements may be. I worry that these actions will only add fuel to the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Situations like these only stress what a difficult job UNESCO have when it comes to sites of shared heritage. They have a responsibility to please all parties and encourage tolerance between cultures.

The UNESCO Director-General’s well-worded response to Israel’s complaints can be found here.


Featured image is copyright Ronen Zvulun, Reuters.