Miles Guralnick received a Gold Key award regionally and a Silver Medal nationally for this critical essay that he wrote for the 2017 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition, as a junior at Nicolet High School, on the subject of the UNESCO Jerusalem Resolution.
As thousands of tourists and worshipers of all religions visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, no one has ever questioned the validity of Jewish, Christian and Muslim connections to the world’s holiest city. That is, until October, 2016, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) endorsed a resolution that blatantly ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. Proposed by several Arab states, all of whom are enemies of Israel, the resolution has fittingly arisen during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, causing even more tension. How is it that the United Nations (UN), an organization dedicated to spreading global peace initiatives, could have passed such a provocative resolution? More importantly, is it surprising that European countries such as Spain and Italy, which have a lengthy history of anti-Semitism, did not condemn the decision and actually abstained from the vote? Not at all. Judaism has been practiced in the Holy Land for thousands of years, dating back to Biblical times and spanning to the present-day Jewish state, so UNESCO’s decision to omit the mention of Jewish heritage in Jerusalem from its controversial resolution demonstrates that it is not capable of recognizing fallacy in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The UN endorsed a distorted, anti-Semitic, Arab resolution that, amongst other exaggerations, does not recognize Jewish roots in Jerusalem, and specifically at the Temple Mount. In Biblical times, the Temple was the holiest place in Judaism, as it supposedly held the Ark of the Covenant. Through destruction and diaspora, the Israelites rebuilt three variations of the Temple, and today the Western Wall of the Temple is a site for mass worship throughout the year. This story was apparently nonexistent to UNESCO, however, and its resolution alarmed many Israelis. In Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China,” (CNN) demonstrating that Jews truly have a heritage in Jerusalem. Palestinians wholly supported the resolution, as they want to see the formation of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, and their approval just reveals the underlying Palestinian hatred of Israel; incidentally, a two-state solution was proposed when Israel was founded, but Palestinians rejected the opportunity. Even some UN officials criticized the resolution, including UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, who said that each religion “has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city” (LA Times). Under this right, Israel should be able to embrace its cultural heritage at the Temple Mount, but now Arab countries have even more of an excuse to try to limit Jewish access to the area. Furthermore, the use of words like “deplore,” “deprecate,” and “regret” (UNESCO) demonstrate a clear bias against Israel in the resolution, which is understandable considering that Arabs drafted it. UNESCO’s Jerusalem resolution favors Arab countries and dismisses Jewish claims to the Holy Land and its sacred sites, denoting feelings of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel.
On the other hand, the UN resolution addresses controversial issues that Arab countries have with Israeli conduct at Muslim holy sites, and it does not specifically deny the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The Al-Aqsa Mosque specifically was a topic for discussion, as the resolution asks that Israel return full authority of the territory to the Jordanian Waqf. Supposedly, Israel often makes incursions on it, and the Electronic Intifada argues that “while undertaking development and archaeological projects around it that threaten the foundation of al-Aqsa, Israel severely restricts Palestinian and Muslim access to the holy site.” These concerns provide somewhat of a basis for the UN resolution. In addition, the resolution affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” (UNESCO) so it does recognize general Jewish, Christian, and Muslim claims to the city. In a sense, the UNESCO resolution is slightly misinterpreted, as it merely highlights Israeli violation of Palestinian and Muslim territories and still, while not explicitly mentioned, touches on the religious importance of Jerusalem and its ancient sites.
In conclusion, UNESCO’s unfortunate resolution that favors Arab interests unequivocally discredits the organization and its ability to make unbiased and progressive decisions. This resolution essentially turns a blind eye to Jewish identity in Jerusalem and allows for more Palestinian criticism of Israel. During a time when Arab-Israeli tensions are extremely high, the United Nations has undoubtedly facilitated the distribution of even more power to Arab states, as several of these countries actually proposed the resolution. Does this decision reflect the mission of the United Nations? Of course not, and in fact, the conflict it is exacerbating should be managed and resolved by the organization. Looking forward, UNESCO should salvage what little credibility it still has and denounce this horrible resolution.