Israel condemns Unesco after Jericho recognised as 'world heritage site in Palestine'

The Tell es-Sultan site contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BCE


Israel has condemned the "politicisation" of Unesco after it voted to recognise ancient ruins near the West Bank city of Jericho as a “world heritage site in Palestine".

The Tell es-Sultan site contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BCE, including evidence of one of humanity’s first-known villages.

Jericho, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, is located in an area of the West Bank currently under full Palestinian Authority (PA) control.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the move constituted “another sign of the Palestinians’ cynical use of Unesco and politicisation of the organisation,” and vowed “to change the distorted decisions that have been made.”

The vote came as an Israeli delegation attended the UN World Heritage Committee meeting, marking the first-ever public appearance by Israeli officials in Saudi Arabia.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, architects of Israel's divisive judicial reforms, said the Unesco move “ethnically cleanses Jews from the history of ancient Jericho, even as the Jews worldwide were busy celebrating Rosh Hoshana, one of the holiest days of the year."

He added: "[Unesco] also turned a blind eye to the PA's ongoing destruction of Second Temple-era antiquities in the area.

"The United States had quit the organization over its chronic antisemitism and re-joined just a few months ago, which is obviously a mistake."

Dan Illouz, a Likud parliamentarian and member of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, earlier this month sent a letter to Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay asking her to prevent the development.

“The Palestinian Authority works systematically to erase all ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel,” Illouz wrote.

He added: "A decision to assign Jericho to 'Palestine' would constitute a blatant interference by Unesco in a conflict in which it is not its role to intervene.

"Jericho is first and foremost a city of biblical significance. Blurring this fact is an insult to millions of Jews and Christians all over the world. It is our duty to stop the PA's subversion and insist on our right to our land."

The PA, which gained non-member observer state status at the United Nations in 2012, welcomed the designation, with leader Mahmoud Abbas stating that the decision “testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people". He added: "The State of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique site for the benefit of mankind."

The PA foreign affairs ministry welcomed the decision in a statement, hailing it as a recognition of Jericho’s “cultural, economic, and political significance” and a testament to “10,000 years of human development".

Rula Ma’ayah, the PA's minister of tourism and antiquities, said: “The outstanding universal value of the site qualifies it to be one of the World Heritage sites."

In 2016, the Unesco World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, in the name of the "State of Palestine” on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”

Unesco passed 47 resolutions in 2009-2014, 46 of which were directed against Israel and one of which criticised Syria.

The USA in June decided to re-join UNESCO after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agency citing "anti-Israel bias".

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced in October 2017 that Israel would withdraw its membership in the organisation at the same time as the USA.

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