By Lukman Harees –
“If the General Assembly were to vote by 121 votes to 1 in favour of “Israel” returning to the armistice lines – (pre June 1967 borders) “Israel” would refuse to comply with the decision.” Aba Eban (the Israeli Foreign Minister) stated arrogantly. New York Times June 19, 1967
The UNESCO Resolution on “Occupied Palestine” which was endorsed recently by its’ Executive Board comprising representatives from 58 states, and approved by 24 votes to 6, with 26 abstentions and two absentees, has already raised a hornet’s nest. Sri Lanka was among the abstentions. The situation stems from many misrepresentations about this Resolution, painted misleadingly by several news outlets fed by Zionist controlled Media over the past week, that UNESCO seems to have given short shrift to the Temple Mount, the most holy site in Jerusalem and has denied that the Temple Mount was ever the home of Jewish temples.
A cursory glance of a Google search on this subject will prove this contention. Few of those headlines were ‘UNESCO adopts resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Temple Mount’, ‘UNESCO resolution is a ‘disgrace to intelligent people,’ ‘UNESCO backs motion nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount’. The Guardian UK even changed its headline of one of its’ articles on the subject from ‘Israeli Anger at UNESCO Motion condemning ‘aggressions’ at Holy Site’ TO ‘ Israeli Anger at UNESCO Motion’s Failure to Link Holy Site to Judaism.’ (Thursday 13 October 2016). However, any sane and objective reading of the Resolution, in the backdrop of the circumstances which led to its’ adoption will show that the version rolled out by the biased Media, was not exactly the case, though usually perception may seem as reality. An unwary world was therefore misled to believe that the crux of the Resolution was to deny Jewish ties to this historic site, which was far from the truth.
Undeniably, two temples — the most sacred sites for the Jewish people in both ancient times and today — once resided at the Temple Mount. For Muslims the Temple Mount is known as Al-Haram al-Sharif (“the noble sanctuary”) and is the place where Prophet Muhammad (S) ascended to heaven. It contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which both survive to the present day, making the site, one of the holiest sites for Muslims.. The site is also important to Christians. The Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to heaven, is located just to the east and the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also located near the Temple Mount.
The Resolution, which contains 41 sections, does not deny the existence of Jewish temples on the Temple Mount; in fact, it affirmed “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” The Resolution clearly notes that Israel is violating Muslims’ freedom of worship by hindering and preventing their access to the Aqsa Mosque; “deplores the continuous storming” of the mosque compound by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces; decries arrests and injuries of Muslim worshippers in the mosque; and “[r]egrets 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 Al-Sharif, 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.”
It was therefore highly critical of Israel, as an “occupying power,” condemning it for a number of “aggressions and illegal measures” at the holy site. It also blames Israel for inciting violence on the Temple Mount, of course referring to as the Al-Haram Al-Sharif. The Resolution urges Israel, the occupying Power, to take necessary measures to prevent provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity of this historic site. Additionally it also condemned Israel’s construction work in the Western Wall Plaza” . The Israeli paper Haaretz report also assumed the Resolution made reference to the Western Wall, while in practice it only discusses the “Western Wall Plaza,” built in 1967 by cleansing the residents of what had been the Mughrabi Quarter for almost eight centuries.
The prevailing status quo has been, that the site – the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque ,is officially under Muslim administration and under Israeli law, Jews are not allowed to pray there to avoid potential violence. While Jews are allowed to enter the site, their worship there is banned under arrangements instituted by Israel when it captured the area from Jordan in 1967. Since that time, many illegal Israeli settlements have sprung up in the West Bank, and Jewish neighbourhoods have appeared in East Jerusalem (an area that used to have mostly Muslim inhabitants) orchestrated by the Israeli Government. There has thus been a surge in private settlement activity in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem. For example, new data show that the number of Jewish settlers in the area surrounding the al-Aqsa compound has increased by 70 percent since 2009. During that same time period, 60 Palestinian families have been evicted, 55 of them in the last two years alone, according to the Israeli nongovernmental organization ‘Ir -Amim’.
Israel’s agenda therefore appears to be to assert sovereignty over the site by diverting the whole discourse fully towards this oft-quoted ‘absence of Jewish links’. Significantly, Israel’s effort to gain a symbolic and perhaps legal foothold at the site through UN resolutions comes as groups that call for the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and its replacement with a Jewish Temple are intensifying their activities, often with Israeli government funding and support. Critics have therefore pointed to the motion’s exclusive reference to the site by the name “al-Aqsa mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif” as evidence that the resolution denies any Jewish connection or reverence for the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount.
In a parallel universe, the Israeli PM could have promised to do more to uphold Muslims’ freedom of worship and to reassure the Muslim world that Israel is not trying to damage the mosque. Those are real and important issues. Instead, PM Netanyahu’s reaction was: “to say that Israel ( note : he mentions Israel NOT Jewish; the wording is important as it will give credibility to the State) 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 and that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.”
However, when writing the Resolution, the board referred to the mount only by its Islamic name, “Al-Haram al-Sharif,” and never used the words “Temple Mount.” . As a matter of fact, denying Jewish rights to the place is also disrespectful to the clear meaning of the Quran itself. Nowhere in the UNESCO Resolution is there any statement invalidating or denying Jews’ connection to Temple Mount: the Jewish connection isn’t discussed in any way, either positively or negatively. It was not mentioned because the Resolution was about Israeli damage to a Muslim holy site – Al-Aqsa Mosque. Beyond that there is no general assessment or rejection of any religion’s connection to the site, apart from an affirmation of “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” PM Netanyahu produced the spin, and Israeli journalists of all stripes were eager to spread it, which news are usually picked up blindly by the world Media. The main focus of the Resolution , on a closer look, was however clearly different .
Israel and its’ Zionist lobby therefore cleverly managed their diplomatic ploy to shift the focus from its’ illegal actions “to issues irrelevant to the content and objectives of the resolution, which aims to put an end to Israel’s dangerous and illegal actions against holy sites in Jerusalem, and is especially regrettable since the member states including Sri Lanka are well aware of the dangerous situation in Jerusalem.”. The so-called absence of an affirmation of Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is being exploited to distract from Israeli violations of the status quo, and restrictions on Muslim-Palestinian access to the holy site.
Most importantly, the entire discussion focused on something UNESCO has no power to do – it does not have any power to nullify the Jewish connection to Jerusalem or any holy sites, even if it wanted to. The real-world power to shape the status quo in Jerusalem rests solely in the hands of Israel, not UNESCO. It is what Israel does with that power which we should be focusing on. Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps the lesson is that we have a choice. We really don’t have to click on a link that help propagate Israeli Zionist Media spins, which as usual are designed to draw attention away from the real, physical harm and issues that the Occupation is causing. This was the crux of the Resolution , which was only a further affirmation of an earlier similar Resolution adopted in April 2016.
Sri Lanka’s Abstention
Meanwhile Sri Lanka, with a strong policy of supporting the just aspirations of the Palestinian people, along with many others abstained from voting on Temple Mount Resolution on the presumption and claim that it denies any Jewish historic claim to the Temple Mount and surrounding holy sites in Jerusalem and on the grounds that Sri Lanka recognizes people’s right to religious freedom. According to SL Foreign Minister, ‘The place is a holy and a historic site for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As a government that has stood for people’s rights and religious freedom we could not have agreed to it from the point of principles we have upheld and maintained on such matters which restricts or discriminate others. Nevertheless, we did not vote against it because Palestine is our friend”. Government Spokesperson insisted that ‘the decision did not signal any departure from Sri Lanka’s position on Palestine as the two issues were not connected. Sri Lanka has always supported the Palestinian cause’
In fact, as stated earlier, ironically UNESCO Executive Board, in April 2016, voted 33-6 to strongly condemn Israel for alleged violations of Muslim religious freedoms at holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron, and for allegedly “planting fake Jewish graves.” Adopted under the agenda item on “Occupied Palestine,” the 5-page Resolution “strongly condemned” alleged “Israeli aggressions” against “the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif.” The wording of that Resolution too was similar to this one in contention. Among the countries which voted in favour, Sri Lanka too was one of them, where even US and UK abstained. The Israeli government describing that Resolution as “hideous” and then wrote letters to the 33 countries that signed the resolution. Sri Lanka too would have been at the receiving end of this Israeli blasting!. In this overall context and also with a US leaning ‘Yahapalana’ government in Colombo, the move can therefore be interpreted as signalling a material shift in Sri Lanka’s longstanding support for the Palestinian cause during the last few months, despite the government’s denial. Besides, does this abstention vote also mean comically, that Sri Lanka has not stood up for its’ so-called principles at the April 2016 Vote because Palestine is its’ friend?
It was therefore regrettable that Sri Lanka has conveniently sought to ignore the very crux of this Resolution, the prevailing status quo, and the historic background for bringing it for adoption and has fallen prey to the Zionist biased Media onslaughts and a victim to the dictates of the US led Western pressures. It will need to have a more plausible explanation to justify its’ abstention. In fact, it should be borne in mind that the UNESCO’s decision to adopt this Resolution reflected the “continued commitment of the majority of member states to confront the Zionist Regime’s impunity and uphold the principles upon which UNESCO was founded and underlines the dwindling credibility of the US led initiatives to whitewash Zionist aggression at the holy sites in particular and against Palestinian people in general.