Israelis and Palestinians unite to protect Jerusalem’s Old City – UNESCO

23 April 2007

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today announced today that it has adopted a landmark decision reaffirming the universal value of the Old City of Jerusalem, marking the first time that Israelis and Palestinians had worked together to protect the World Heritage site.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today announced today that it has adopted a landmark decision reaffirming the universal value of the Old City of Jerusalem, marking the first time that Israelis and Palestinians had worked together to protect the World Heritage site.

The decision adopted by consensus by UNESCO’s Executive Board also called for the safeguarding of the area, which is protected by the UN Convention the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), and is inscribed on the UN World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger.

This decision also is the first taken by Israelis and Palestinians to “work together constructively towards achieving consensus on this important and highly complex matter,” said Zhang Xinsheng, the Board’s Chairman.

In February, Israel initiated a construction project in the Old City, prompting UNESCO to call for a halt to any action that could exacerbate tensions.

The Islamic Waqf (religious authorities) of Jerusalem has called the work illegal since under international law no action should be undertaken in an occupied city. Israel captured the Old City in the 1967 war. The Waqf asked UNESCO to intervene, saying it also feared the excavations would destroy the last vestiges of an old Muslim quarter demolished after 1967.

In late February, the agency dispatched a technical team to the site, which found after a four-day investigation that although Israeli archaeological work for an access pathway in the Old City does not threaten the Al-Aqsa Mosque and complies with professional standards, Israel should at once stop excavations and consult on a final plan with Muslim religious authorities and other parties.

Of today’s decision, Mr. Zhang noted that “the ability of the parties involved to achieve what, at the outset seemed unachievable, demonstrates UNESCO’s unique ability… to build bridges, generate solidarity, and, most especially, to help in our own way towards building a harmonized world, thus creating greater peace and relieving tensions in the Middle East.”

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, hailed the decision, since “our determination to safeguard all cultural heritage properties – especially those in danger, wherever they may be, and in whatever circumstances – is an integral part of our mandate,” he said.

In addition, the decision announced today recommends that the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee hold an urgent and informal meeting in early May to follow up on the findings of the technical mission, and also requests that the World Heritage Committee make certain that its decisions are properly implemented.

 

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