Islamic Bloc Hails UNESCO Jerusalem Decision: ‘An Exclusively Islamic Holy Site’

By Patrick Goodenough | October 18, 2016 | 4:48am EDT
A detail from the Arch of Titus in Rome depicts victorious Roman soldiers carrying spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem. It was built a decade after the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, 500 years before the birth of Mohammed and subsequent rise of Islam. The location of the biblical Temples is Judaism's most sacred site. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

( – As UNESCO’s executive board meets Tuesday to give final approval to a controversial text on Jerusalem, the bloc of Islamic nations is saying openly what U.N. diplomats are not: that according to the resolution, what Jews know as the Temple Mount is “an exclusively Islamic holy site.”

The resolution, which was passed by vote at committee stage in Paris late last week, repeatedly calls Israel the “occupying power” in Jerusalem, and refers to the Temple Mount only by its Islamic name, al-Haram al-Sharif.

What that wording implies – that Jews have no claim to the Temple Mount – was asserted explicitly by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) secretariat at the weekend.

The resolution, it said, “acknowledges Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif to be an exclusively Islamic holy site.”

The bloc of 57 Islamic states said further that the resolution amounts to international condemnation of Israeli policies that were “designed to cover up historical facts and deny the inalienable political, cultural and religious rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Palestine.”

In fact, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and has never throughout its more than 3,000-year history been the capital of any other nation or people.

While today the Temple Mount at the heart of the Old City is the location of two important mosques – including al-Aqsa, regarded by Muslims as Islam’s third-holiest site – it is also the location where the two ancient Jewish Temples stood, as attested by historical, archeological and biblical sources.

The later of those two Temples, the one in which Jesus was dedicated as a baby and prayed and prophesied during his adult ministry, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD – 500 years before the founder and prophet of Islam was born.

The Temple Mount is Judaism’s most revered site. Although it came under Israeli sovereignty during the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli authorities ceded its administration to an Islamic trust.

The nearest point observant Jews are generally able to pray publicly is the Western or “Wailing” Wall, a remnant of a retaining wall on the western flank of the mount.

That ancillary site’s significance to Jews is also called into question by the UNESCO resolution, which refers to the paved area in front of the wall as the Al-Buraq plaza, followed by the words “Western Wall plaza” in quotation marks.

Al-Buraq is the name Muslims give the area, in line with the claim that Mohammed tied his legendary winged steed, Al-Buraq, there during his “night journey” from Mecca to heaven. The belief that he stopped in Jerusalem en route is the basis of al-Aqsa’s importance to Muslims.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani. The secretariat of the 57-member bloc of Islamic nations has hailed the UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem. (AP Photo, File)

When the “program and external relations commission” of UNESCO’s executive board voted on the Jerusalem resolution last Thursday, just six of the 56 countries present opposed it – the United States, Britain, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands.

Twenty-four countries voted in favor and another 26 abstained.

On Tuesday it will be up for a final vote of the executive board as it wraps up an 11-day session. The board usually endorses committee decisions as a formality, although members can call for a recorded vote and change earlier vote positions.

‘Enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.’

While the earlier committee vote was hailed by the OIC, the Palestinian Authority and some individual countries, it drew strong criticism from Israel, the U.S. State Department and others.

Also distancing themselves from the resolution was the head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, who said in a statement that “[t]o deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site …”

Even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in, with a spokesman saying he “stresses the importance of the religious and historical link of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian peoples to the holy site.”

“Any perceived undertaking to repudiate the undeniable common reverence for these sites does not serve the interests of peace and will only feed violence and radicalism,” he added.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump also slammed the UNESCO vote, as did the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.,” Trump said in a statement.

“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” said Clinton foreign policy advisor Laura Rosenberger.

“As secretary of state, Hillary sought to defend Israel against biased resolutions like these at the United Nations and other international organizations and would proudly do so again as president.”

Five years ago, another UNESCO vote challenged U.S. support for Israel. On that occasion, UNESCO’s executive board, followed by its 195-member general conference, voted to become the first U.N. agency to admit “Palestine.”

The decision compelled the Obama administration to halt taxpayer funding for UNESCO, in line with U.S. law.

But from the outset the State Department – then headed by Clinton – sought to find ways around the funding ban.

Just three months later, the Clinton State Department released its fiscal year 2013 budget request, including a $79 million request for UNESCO.

“The Department of State intends to work with Congress to seek legislation that would provide authority to waive restrictions on paying the U.S. assessed contributions to UNESCO,” the request justification said.

The effort failed then, and has failed ever since. As recently as last Thursday the State Department reaffirmed it remains the administration’s desire to restore the funding.

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