I’ve been struggling with a virus since returning from my recent o/seas trip and unable to focus on blogging after work hours these past two weeks but a Jerry Coyne blog post has roused me from my lethargy:
The anti-Semitism of UNESCO
The visceral illogic of his post leaves me somewhat dismayed. Does he really believe — is he even aware that he is saying — that present-day cultural monuments of devotion for one religious and historical identity should be replaced by monuments to ancient myths that have not existed in the land for millennia in the interests of an opposing religious and historical identity? Is he really oblivious to the politics of archaeology, to the way archaeology has long been used as an ideological and nationalistic propaganda tool?
Did he even read in full the Unesco draft decision [link is to pdf] that he curiously declares to be “anti-semitic”? (I’m reminded of yesterday’s debate. If something goes against X, X always says it is because it was “rigged”.)
I will probably delete any comment that expresses an view that clearly demonstrates a failure to have actually read the UNESCO document which I copy in full below. I’m interested in informed discussion.
200 EX/PX/DR.25.2 Rev.PARIS, 12 October 2016Original: English
Two hundredth session
PROGRAMME AND EXTERNAL RELATIONS COMMISSION (PX)
Item 25: OCCUPIED PALESTINE
Submitted by: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan
The Executive Board,
1. Having examined document 200 EX/25,
2. Recalling the provisions of the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their additional Protocols (1977), the 1907 Hague Regulations on Land Warfare, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its related Protocols, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), the inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls at the request of Jordan on the World Heritage List (1981) and on the List of World Heritage in Danger (1982), and the recommendations, resolutions and decisions of UNESCO on the protection of cultural heritage, as well as resolutions and decisions of UNESCO relating to Jerusalem, also recalling previous UNESCO decisions relating to the reconstruction and development of Gaza as well as UNESCO decisions on the two Palestinian sites in Al-Khalil/Hebron and in Bethlehem,
3. Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions, also affirming that nothing in the current decision, which aims, inter alia, at the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem, shall in any way affect the relevant Security Council and United Nations resolutions and decisions on the legal status of Palestine and Jerusalem,
4. Deeply regrets the Israeli refusal to implement UNESCO previous decisions concerning Jerusalem, particularly 185 EX/Decision 14, notes that its request to the Director-General to appoint, as soon as possible, a permanent representative to be stationed in East Jerusalem to report on a regular basis about all the aspects covering the fields of competence of UNESCO in East Jerusalem, has not been fulfilled, and reiterates its request to the DirectorGeneral to appoint the above-mentioned representative;
5. Deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City, and reiterates its request to Israel, the occupying Power, to prohibit all such works in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
6. Thanks the Director-General for her efforts to implement previous UNESCO decisions on Jerusalem and requests her to maintain and reinvigorate such efforts;
I.B Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif and its surroundings
I.B.1 Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif
7. Calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and its mandate extended to all affairs relating to the unimpeded administration of AlAqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, including maintenance, restoration and regulating access;
8. Strongly condemns the escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the Awqaf Department and its personnel, and against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, and requests Israel, the occupying Power, to respect the historic status quo and to immediately stop these measures;
9. Firmly deplores the continuous storming of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to take necessary measures to prevent provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
10. Deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions against civilians including Islamic religious figures and priests, decries the forceful entering into the different mosques and historic buildings inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharifby different Israeli employees including the so-called “Israeli Antiquities” officials, and arrests and injuries among Muslim worshippers and Jordanian Awqaf guards in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif by the Israeli forces, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to end these aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths;
11. Disapproves of the Israeli restriction of access to Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif during the 2015 Eid Al-Adha and the subsequent violence, and calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to stop all violations against Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
12. Deeply regrets the refusal of Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts in charge of the UNESCO project at the Centre of Islamic Manuscripts in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and requests Israel to grant visas to UNESCO experts without restrictions;
13. Regrets the damage caused by the Israeli Forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and reaffirms, in this regard, the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship and as an integral part of a world cultural heritage site;
14. Expresses its deep concern over the Israeli closure and ban of the renovation of the AlRahma Gate building, one of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif gates, and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to reopen the Gate, and stop obstruction of the necessary restoration works, in order to repair the damage caused by the weather conditions, especially the water leakage into the rooms of the building;
15. Also calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to stop the obstruction of the immediate execution of all the 18 Hashemite restoration projects in and around Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif;
16. Deplores the Israeli decision to approve a plan to build a two-line cable car system in East Jerusalem and the so called “Liba House” project in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the construction of the so called “Kedem Center”, a visitor centre near the southern wall of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, the construction of the Strauss Building and the project of the elevator in Al-Buraq Plaza “Western Wall Plaza” and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to renounce the above-mentioned projects and to stop the construction works in conformity with its obligations under the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
I.B.2 The Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate in Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram ash-Sharif
17. Reaffirms that the Mughrabi Ascent is an integral and inseparable part of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif;
18. Takes note of the 16th Reinforced Monitoring Report and all previous reports, together with their addenda prepared by the World Heritage Centre as well as the State of Conservation reports submitted to the World Heritage Centre by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Palestine;
19. Deprecates the continuing Israeli unilateral measures and decisions regarding the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate, including the latest works conducted at the Mughrabi Gate entrance in February 2015, the instalment of an umbrella at that entrance as well as the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza “Western Wall Plaza”, and the removal of the Islamic remains at the site, and reaffirms that no Israeli unilateral measures, shall be taken in conformity with its status and obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict;
20. Also expresses its deep concern regarding the illegal demolitions of Umayyad, Ottoman and Mamluk remains as well as other intrusive works and excavations in and around the Mughrabi Gate Pathway, and also requests Israel, the occupying Power, to halt such demolitions, excavations and works and to abide by its obligations under the provisions of the UNESCO conventions mentioned in paragraph 2 above;
21. Reiterates its thanks to Jordan for its cooperation and urges Israel, the occupying Power, to cooperate with the Jordanian Awqaf Department, in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and to facilitate access of Jordanian Awqaf experts with their tools and materials to the site in order to enable the execution of the Jordanian design of the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate in accordance with UNESCO and World Heritage Committee decisions, particularly 37 COM/7A.26, 38 COM/7A.4 and 39 COM/7A.27;
22. Thanks the Director-General for her attention to the sensitive situation of this matter, and requests her to take the necessary measures in order to enable the execution of the Jordanian design of the Ascent to the Mughrabi Gate;
I.C UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls and UNESCO experts meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent
23. Stresses yet again the urgent need of the implementation of the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
24. Recalls in this regard 196 EX/Decision 26 that decided, in case of non-implementation, to consider, in conformity with the International Law, other means to ensure its implementation;
25. Notes with deep concern that Israel, the occupying Power, had not complied with any of the 12[1 see the pdf version linked above for the list of these decisions] decisions of the Executive Board as well as six [2 see the pdf version linked above for the list of these resolutions] decisions of the World Heritage Committee that request the implementation of the reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
26. Regrets the continued Israeli refusal to act in accordance with UNESCO and World Heritage Committee decisions that request a UNESCO experts meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent and the dispatch of a reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls;
27. Invites the Director-General to take necessary measures to implement the above-mentioned reactive monitoring mission in accordance with World Heritage Committee decision 34 COM/7A.20, prior to the next session of the Executive Board, and invites all concerned parties to facilitate the implementation of the mission and experts meeting;
28. Requests that the report and recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission as well as the report of the technical meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent, be presented to the concerned parties;
29. Thanks the Director-General for her continuous efforts to implement the above-mentioned UNESCO joint reactive monitoring mission and all related UNESCO decisions and resolutions;
RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF GAZA
30. Deplores the military confrontations in and around the Gaza Strip and the civilian casualties caused, including the killing and injury of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children, as well as the continuous negative impact in the fields of competence of UNESCO, the attacks on schools and other educational and cultural facilities, including breaches of inviolability of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools;
31. Strongly deplores the continuous Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which harmfully affects the free and sustained movement of personnel and humanitarian relief items as well as the intolerable number of casualties among Palestinian children, the attacks on schools and other educational and cultural facilities and the denial of access to education, and requests Israel, the occupying Power, to immediately ease this blockade;
32. Reiterates its request to the Director-General to upgrade, as soon as possible, the UNESCO Antenna in Gaza in order to ensure the prompt reconstruction of schools, universities, cultural heritage sites, cultural institutions, media centres and places of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by the consecutive wars on Gaza;
33. Thanks the Director-General for the information meeting held on March 2015 on the current situation in Gaza in the fields of competence of UNESCO and on the outcome of the projects conducted by UNESCO in the Gaza Strip-Palestine, and invites her to organize, as soon as possible, another information meeting on the same matter;
34. Also thanks the Director-General for initiatives that have already been implemented in Gaza in the fields of education, culture and youth and for the safety of media professionals, and calls upon her to continue her active involvement in the reconstruction of Gaza’s damaged educational and cultural components;
THE TWO PALESTINIAN SITES OF AL-ḤARAM AL IBRĀHĪMĪ/TOMB OF THE PATRIARCHS IN AL-KHALĪL/HEBRON AND THE BILĀL IBN RABĀḤ MOSQUE/RACHEL’S TOMB IN BETHLEHEM
35. Reaffirms that the two concerned sites located in Al-Khalil/Hebron and in Bethlehem are an integral part of Palestine;
36. Shares the conviction affirmed by the international community that the two sites are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam;
37. Strongly disapproves the ongoing Israeli illegal excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and a separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalil/Hebron, that harmfully affect the integrity of the site, and the subsequent denial of freedom of movement and freedom of access to places of worship, and asks Israel, the occupying Power, to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
38. Deeply deplores the new cycle of violence, going on since October 2015, in the context of the constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers and other extremist groups against Palestinian residents including schoolchildren, also asks the Israeli authorities to prevent such aggressions;
39. Regrets the visual impact of the separation wall on the site of Bilal Ibn Rabaḥ Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as well as the strict ban on access of Palestinian Christian and Muslim worshippers to the site, and demands the Israeli authorities to restore the original character of the landscape around the site and to lift the ban on access to it;
40. Deeply regrets the Israeli refusal to comply with 185 EX/Decision 15, which requested the Israeli authorities to remove the two Palestinian sites from its national heritage list and calls on the Israeli authorities to act in accordance with that decision;
41. Decides to include these matters under an item entitled “Occupied Palestine” in the agenda at its 201st session, and invites the Director-General to submit to it a progress report thereon.
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9 thoughts on “Archaeology as Manufacturer and Destroyer of Historical and Contemporary Identities”
When you interpret Jerry Coyne as saying “that present-day cultural monuments of devotion for one religious and historical identity should be replaced by monuments to ancient myths”, are you saying that Coyne is advocating to demolish the Al-Aqṣa Mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple?
I read nothing of that kind in the referenced blogpost of Jerry Coyne. Could you elaborate on what you meant to say?
And what do you mean by “monuments to ancient myths that have not existed in the land for millennia”? Is – in your view – Herod’s temple an ancient myth?
Of course not. That’s nonsense. I’m interested in informed discussion, not hostile aspersions like this.
Of course not. That’s nonsense. I’m interested in informed discussion, not patronizing innuendo like this.
Did you read the UNESCO declaration? If you want to know what I meant you simply have to read it and compare with Coyne’s spin. I’m interested in informed discussion. Can you identify any logical and factual correlation between the details of the contents of the UNESCO document and Coyne’s accusations? What, if any, evidence does Coyne give that he read the UNESCO document himself?
I have read the UNESCO resolution. Its main message appears to be a call on Israel to cease the excavations and works in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City. The key feature is the resolution’s failure to refer to Judaism’s holiest sites by their Jewish names.
The blogpost of Jerry Coyne consists of 3 parts:
1) An introduction, summarising the history of the Temple Mount (Kotel, Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif) and its relevance to Judaism. He also explains its relevance to Islam and Christianity. I don’t see anything contentious in this part.
2) Then Coyne reports on the UNESCO resolution: he provides a direct link to the text, cites the commentary from the New York Times, and links to commentaries from the Jerusalem Post and 2 other Jewish sites. It is clear that Coyne sides with the Israeli interpretation of the resolution. One may – of course – disagree with that view, but I don’t think this gives ground to speak of the “visceral illogic of his post”. It is clear that the resolution refers to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – site of the Jewish Temples and a locus of Jewish veneration – only by its Arabic name, Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif. The Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Temple compound built by King Herod and Judaism’s holiest site, is referred to as Al-Buraq Plaza – a term the Simon Wiesenthal Centre says was lifted from Hamas literature – with “Western Wall Plaza” appearing only between quotation marks.
3) Finally, he summarises his view: “this kind of vote cannot be seen as anything other than either anti-Semitism or catering to Muslim desires”. In short, Coyne sees the resolution as a political statement, rather than as a resolution about cultural heritage.
I would say there is consensus around that view, also among the – Arab – leaders who support the resolution: The official spokesman of the Palestinian Presidency Nabil Abu Rudeinah said on October 19 that the resolution ” of UNESCO regarding Jerusalem and the al-Aksa Mosque form a clear message from the international community that it does not agree with the policies that protect the occupation and contribute to the creation of chaos and instability.” Pure politics here.
Having read the UNESCO resolution, I may add that there is much factually wrong in the ‘regrets’,’deplores’, ‘condemns’ and ‘decries’ in the text. I’m happy to discuss these in detail, if there is any interest.
Simply repeating Coyne’s post and quotations is no evidence you have read the document yourself. Quite the opposite, in fact. Do you know why certain Arabic names are used? Evidently not. You quote Coyne and political statements of others but supply no evidence you have read or comprehended the document yourself, no evidence you can justify the political conclusions from your reading of the document, no evidence you have any notion of the context of the document within UNESCO, either — the document actually says the opposite of what Jerry and certain Israeli politicians and media have asserted. Just read the document for yourself.
“Does he really believe — is he even aware that he is saying — that present-day cultural monuments of devotion for one religious and historical identity should be replaced by monuments to ancient myths that have not existed in the land for millennia in the interests of an opposing religious and historical identity?”
Probably not, since Jerry Coyne doesn’t appear to me to be saying anything of the sort and I have read his post several times over.
Looking further afield on the issue, neither side comes out well. Each consistently denies a large part of the other’s rights while affirming those same rights for themselves. The “illegal” acts decried by UNESCO follow in large part in response to the “illegal” acts of the Waqf. A pox on both their houses; both the UN and the US need to desist in the partisan support of one side or the other and either bang heads together or cease having anything to do with the matter. That probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon as those parties are as much immersed in mythologies and propaganda about themselves as the principal disputants.
The UNESCO document affirms in relation to Jerusalem
and in relation to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem
If there is one-sidedness to the report it may relate to the failure to mention Solomon’s Stables beneath the Temple Mount. I have read two articles critical of this aspect but have not yet found any UNESCO statement about this particular 1996/7 issue.
The illegality is in relation to
and multiple instances are cited of turning back the status quo as at September 2000 in relation to the preservation of and access to holy sites to the detriment of one of the three monotheistic faiths.
The accusations in some western media about the declaration denying the historic attachment of Jews to Jerusalem are entirely fantastical.
Thanks for putting the whole UNESCO document up Neil. There is no disputing it, the State of Israel has violated several of the Geneva and Hague conventions but equally there is no disputing that the Jordanian Awqaf violated some of the same conventions with unauthorised demolitions and excavations. Both the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan are/were occupying powers under the conventions; both illegally annexed East Jerusalem in violation of UN Resolution 194. In Jerusalem everyone is operating illegally – de jure Jerusalem supposed to be an international city under UN administration. Just as Adelaide cannot overrule Canberra, UNESCO cannot overrule the General Assembly. The Jordanian Awqaf similarly has no standing in international law. This is as silly as international arbitration of a turf dispute between the Unione Corse and the Mafia.
I can see why Jerry Coyne and others might decry this document as anti-semitic though. Place names in Arabic/English; no mention of the similar antics of Arab authorities; complete disregard of the other side of the argument; etc. It is a partisan document that the majority of the board that produced it do not avow and a few minutes googling shows it more than a little nonsensical in context and economical with the actualité. But it is no more than we have come to expect from such and I’m not going to get upset by it.
I have to wonder why people want to be offended and upset on other peoples behalf though: It has nothing to do with us and we can do nothing about it; all that happens is we fall out with one another to no one’s benefit and irrationally grow the hate.
If I understand your perspective (though I question some of your “facts”), that perspective is one that I grappled with for many years before coming to see how narrowly Western it is. It is instructive to read the UNESCO site and survey the documents of the World Heritage Committee’s documents. Israel is just one of scores of countries it is interested in. It is so easy for the Western media and certain governments to whip up feelings and focus as if Israel is its primary preoccupation. But in each year’s over 200 page report one has to go to some trouble to find the document that is the big focus of some media and political discussion right now. The authors are some of the top professionals in their field.
There are in fact good sensible and objective grounds for an international body to select the names it does and it would be a shameful retreat in the face of political bullying if they were to change their policy. (It is all too easy for us to casually assume that the Jewish or the English names should be the standard by right!)
Archaeology in Israel today is a very politicized propaganda weapon and it is being used to rewrite history and obliterate historical identity of another people (already there has been political propaganda flatly denying they have the historical identity they claim for themselves). (This is another topic I have so much material I want to post about — knowing that when or if I do that I will attract some more very hostile reactions and repel many readers all over again — which to me is an indication of just how important it is that the information is put out there.)
That is a good point to raise. It is a couple of pages in a much larger document. It deserves emphasising that focus is given to that part of the world at the expense of ignoring much else. A sense of proportion would go a long way to being in a position to address the problems. That and taking the emotion out of it.
It isn’t all about us and it isn’t all about Israel.
I can see where Coyne is coming from, I don’t see it myself. What I do see is eisegesis. This might even be the arch theme of all your content. You very much want to bring out what is actually there and to point out where people are importing their own baggage and biases into things. Ironically, many of us then take your explanations for excuses. You made mention of Mohammad Abdhu three weeks ago. Salafist extremists will lay claim to him but he is also at the root of Arab secularism. Again, different individuals and groups responding differently and individually.
I would very much like to see the material you have amassed about about identity erasure and your commentary on it. There are paradoxes here. In seeking to write the Arabs of Palestine from history, the Zionists have done much to create a distinct Palestinian identity/natonality and to reinforce it. In seeking to validate their own identity and claims through archaeology the Zionists are on the way to achieving the opposite.