UNESCO’s executive board adopted a resolution Tuesday critical of Israeli policies at an east Jerusalem holy site revered by Muslims and Jews.
Twenty-four UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) diplomats voted for the Arab-sponsored resolution last week, while six members voted no and 26 others abstained.
Israel says the resolution suppresses any historic Jewish ties to the area and criticizes Israeli security measures against Palestinians.
Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said Tuesday Israel will not play what he calls an “ugly game.”
“There is no place for those games in UNESCO. This noble organization was established to preserve the history, not to rewrite it. And the Palestinians and the other countries want to rewrite the history of Jerusalem.”
But a Palestinian representative, Mounir Anastas, echoed the resolution that throughout calls Israel an “occupying power” trying to make illegal changes in and around the holy site.
“As an occupying power, they have obligations to respect ... they are tied by international law that requests them first, not to conduct any work and second, not to change the names in this site,” Anastas said.
Jews call the east Jerusalem site the Temple Mount. It is Judaism’s holiest site. Muslims call it the al-Aqsa mosque. It is Islam’s third holiest site.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in 1967 and, under an agreement, Jordan oversees the site.
But the Temple Mount or al-Aqsa has been the center of nearly 50 years of nonstop tension between Jews and Arabs, with both sides accusing the other of trying to restrict access and the right to worship there.
The UNESCO resolution only refers to the site as al-Aqsa and never mentions the words Temple Mount. It says it “deeply regrets” and “deeply deplores” Israeli construction work in and around east Jerusalem’s Old City, what it says are Israeli actions aimed at preventing Muslims from worshipping there, and Israeli resistance to allow a UNESCO representative to be permanently stationed at the site.
Israel suspended all cooperation with UNESCO last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says denying Israeli ties to the Temple Mount is like saying “China has no connection to the Great Wall or Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.”
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova critiqued the resolution, saying any attempt to erase the Jewish, Muslim or Christian traditions undermines the integrity of the Temple Mount or al-Aqsa.
“We are one single humanity and that tolerance is the only way forward in a world of diversity,” Bokova said.
The resolution is not expected to have direct impact on Jerusalem itself, but it deepened tensions within UNESCO, which is also facing a diplomatic dispute between Japan and China that threatens funding, the Associated Press reported.