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UNESCO should cry no tears over Israel’s departure

By Dr Daud Abdullah | MEMO | January 2, 2019

There will be no tears now Israel and the US have withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Both countries have undermined the organisation’s credibility and brought it into disrepute – UNESCO will be better off without them.

UNESCO is governed by several international accords, to which all members are treaty-bound to adhere. The 1954 “Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” is arguably the most important international instrument for the protection of cultural property – defined as monuments of architecture, art or history; archaeological sites; buildings of historical or artistic interest; works of art; manuscripts, important books and archives, as well as scientific collections.

Both The Hague Convention and its Protocol have been incorporated into international customary law; their provisions are, therefore, binding on all parties to conflict, regardless of whether or not they are signatories to these instruments. In recent years, the protection of cultural heritage has been deemed so important that the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has recognised the destruction and seizure of buildings dedicated to religion, education, arts, science or charitable purposes, as well as historic monuments, a war crime.

Yet throughout its 70-year history, Israel has shown an alarming disregard for UNESCO’s rules and ideals, seeking exemptions and privileges not granted to any other member state. Its real grievance with UNESCO is that it wants the organisation to remain silent and, in doing so, endorse its theft and destruction of Palestinian cultural heritage.

Israeli soldiers and civilians have stolen innumerable objects of historical, cultural and archaeological importance to Palestine. Bizarrely, on the same day that Israel announced its withdrawal from UNESCO, one of the country’s leading daily newspapers, Haaretz, published an article under the title “Israel Displays Archaeological Finds Looted from West Bank”. This was in reference to a Civil Administration exhibition currently being held at the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem.

As a contracting party to The Hague Convention, Israel is obliged “to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property”. Yet, with the backing of the US, it chooses to do just the opposite.

The theft of archaeological items is bad enough, but their wilful destruction is far worse. Israel’s construction of the Separation Wall –  which encircles its settlements across the occupied West Bank – has often required large-scale archaeological excavation. Palestinian officials believe that an estimated 1,100 archaeological landmarks have been ruined or destroyed by the construction of the wall.

Furthermore, as a matter of policy Israel refuses to share with Palestinian researchers the data and objects obtained from its excavations in the occupied territories. Although Israel signed the UNESCO “Recommendation on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations” in 1956, it has refused to ratify the 1970 “UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”. Instead, it continues to argue that international law does not prohibit excavation in occupied territories.

Around 53 per cent of the archaeological sites in the occupied West Bank are located in Area C, in which Palestinians are prohibited from conducting exploration, restoration and development. Unsurprisingly, during the first five years of the Oslo Accords (1993-98), only nine out of the 171 excavation permits issued by the Israeli Staff of Antiquities were granted to Palestinian academic institutions.

All told Israel has, for its own partisan reasons, never been a committed member of UNESCO. Its discomfort always lay in the fact that it could not persuade the organisation’s members to acquiesce to its theft and destruction of Palestinian cultural heritage. Disagreement and divorce seemed inevitable, given that UNESCO has declared some of the sites affected by Israel’s occupation as World Heritage sites.

Contrary to the Israeli-US claim, UNESCO has never adopted a policy of singling-out Israel for criticism or censure – the only reason it has been subjected to scrutiny is because it has, for decades, refused to act in accordance with UNESCO’s rules.

Were UNESCO to turn a blind eye to Israel’s looting and vandalising of Palestinian cultural heritage, this would be nothing less than a dereliction of duty. Furthermore, to appease Israel would set a dangerous precedent for rogue states and non-state actors to act with similar impunity.  Instead of weeping over their departure, UNESCO must now feel deeply relieved that it will no longer be called upon to act against its principles, values and interests.

January 3, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 3 Comments

Palestine urges international probe into Jerusalem excavations

MEMO | December 30, 2018

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has called for forming an international commission to investigate Israeli excavations in the occupied city of East Jerusalem and beneath the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

In a statement on Saturday, the ministry warned that the Israeli diggings pose a major threat to Palestinian houses in the occupied city.

“These excavations aim to cause cracks in Palestinian houses, with Israeli authorities ordering residents to leave these houses on the ground that they are not fit for living,” the ministry said.

The ministry went on to describe the Israeli eviction of Palestinians from their homes as a “large-scale, systematic ethnic cleansing”.

There was no comment from Israeli authorities on the ministry’s statement.

Israel refuses to allow access to UNESCO to examine the holy sites in East Jerusalem.

In July 2017, the UNESCO executive board adopted a resolution that slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law”.

The resolution further stated that “legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered – or purport to alter – the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem… are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith”.

In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution describing Jerusalem as an “occupied” city and Israel as an “occupying power”, which, under international law, has no sovereignty over the historic city.

The same resolution stated that Jerusalem’s Old City was “entirely Palestinian”, going on to emphasise its historical “Muslim and Christian” identity and heritage.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In a move never recognised by the international community, it unilaterally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

Read also:

Israel to spend $16.6 million on excavations under Al-Aqsa Mosque

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel rages after UNESCO describes Hebron as Palestinian heritage site

RT | July 7, 2017

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO walked out of a session by the UN agency after learning that the Old City of Hebron had been referred to as Palestinian, not Israeli. Israeli officials slammed the move saying it overlooks the deep Jewish ties to the biblical town.

The Friday session, which took place in Krakow, Poland led to Hebron’s Old City being put on the agency’s World Heritage list as a site in danger, UNESCO spokeswoman Lucia Iglesias confirmed, according to AP.

The decision came after a secret vote of 12-3, with six abstentions.

Although the move itself wasn’t deemed controversial by Tel Aviv, the decision to describe Hebron as a “Palestinian heritage site” infuriated Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who walked out of the session in protest.

Shama-Hacohen also expressed anger after learning that the vote would only be partially secret, as it would not be conducted behind a screen. A shouting match reportedly broke out between the ambassador and the Palestinian and Lebanese envoys over the issue, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The ambassador wasn’t the only Israeli official angered by the UN agency’s wording. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also wasn’t happy, calling it “another delusional decision by UNESCO.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded by calling UNESCO a “politically slanted organization, disgraceful and anti-Semitic, whose decisions are scandalous,” Haaretz reported.

“Jewish ties to Hebron are stronger than the disgraceful UNESCO vote,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister and head of the country’s national UNESCO committee.

It is “disappointing and embarrassing to see UNESCO denying history and distorting reality time after time to knowingly serve those who try to wipe the Jewish state off the map,” Bennett added. “Israel won’t renew cooperation with UNESCO as long as it continues to serve as a tool for political attacks instead of being a professional organization.”

Iglesias declined to comment on whether Hebron had been recognized as Palestinian, saying the exact wording would be decided at a later time.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians praised the move, with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling it “the only logical and correct decision,” and adding that “… Hebron’s Old City and holy site is under threat due to the irresponsible, illegal, and highly damaging actions of Israel, the occupying Power, which maintains a regime of separation and discrimination in the city based on ethnic background and religion.”

Jews believe the Cave of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, is where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives are buried. For Muslims, the city is home to the Ibrahimi mosque, also known the Sanctuary of Abraham, which was built in the 14th century.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Israel refuses entry to UNESCO group expected to visit Hebron’s Old City

Ma’an – June 26, 2017

BETHLEHEM – Israeli authorities have refused to grant entry visas for a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) investigative team scheduled to conduct a field visit to the Old City in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron in advance of an upcoming vote next month to consider the area an endangered world heritage site, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

While Palestinian authorities had planned to introduce the site for consideration on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 2018, they decided to fast track the site’s application owing to routine Israeli violence in the Old City, which Palestinians have claimed threatens the integrity of the site, and instead propose the area as an endangered site.

A Palestinian delegation to UNESCO had reportedly expressed the “alarming details about the Israeli violations in Al-Khalil/ Hebron, including the continuous acts of vandalism, property damage, and other attacks,” in a letter to the World Heritage Center.

Since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967 and began advancing Israeli settlements across Palestinian territory in violation of international law, Hebron has been a flashpoint for Israeli settler violence on Palestinians and their properties.

The Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the Old City where the Prophet Abraham is believed to be buried has been a focal point of such violence for decades, as the site is holy to both Muslims and Jews and has been a prime site for Israeli settler activities in the area.

The UNESCO team’s visit is aimed at assessing whether or not the Old City of Hebron is actually endangered, and would submit these findings to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a body that provides recommendations to UNESCO involving sites that could be considered on the World Heritage in Danger list.

According to The Jerusalem Post, other protected sites in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the ancient terraces of Battir, and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, had also been fast tracked by Palestinian authorities in previous years to include them on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list.

Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen reportedly said that the UNESCO group was being rejected entry into Israel owing to the fact that ICOMOS had advised against considering the previous sites in the occupied territory as endangered and instead recommended that Palestinian authorities continue with the normal process.

UNESCO, however, had rejected these recommendations by ICOMOS for the Church of Nativity and Battir. Hacohen said that due to these past decisions by UNESCO to ignore recommendations made by ICOMOS, it would be “a shame to waste the time and money” of the committee.

He went on to denounce what he considered “Palestinian political moves under the guise of culture and heritage,” and added that UNESCO’s consideration of the site represented “lies that plot against the state of Israel as well as the history and the connection of the Jewish people to this important holy site.”

The Old City, which is under full Israeli military control, is home to some 30,000 Palestinians and around 800 Israeli settlers who live under the protection of Israeli forces.

UNESCO is scheduled to decide on the status of the Old City during a conference in Krakow, Poland from July 2-12. The vote is expected to include a clause rejecting Israeli sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Meanwhile, Israeli media site Ynet reported that Israeli authorities have been scrambling to collect the seven votes needed to block the motion.

Ynet also said that in the “context of a peace process,” the inclusion of Hebron’s Old City into UNESCO’s World Heritage List would “impose limits on Israeli construction, the protection and development of the site and on specific areas in the vicinity,” and expressed worry that Israel would “be condemned each time it erects a security checkpoint or conducts work in the area on the grounds that is is damaging a world heritage site.”

However, Israeli activities in Hebron and the rest of occupied Palestine have long been condemned by rights groups and the international community as human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and a threat to any future peace agreements, while the some 500,000 to 600,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank are residing there in contravention of international law.

Israel has accused the United Nations and its respective bodies of being “anti-Israel” for its stances against the now half-century occupation of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

Such allegations have escalated following the passing of UN Resolution 2334, which condemned Israel’s settlement building in Palestinian territory. The US had taken Israel by surprise at the time by abstaining from the vote, in a split from its typical objections to such moves.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the UN could no longer “bully” Israel over its violations of international law, and said that “we are not going to let that happen anymore.”

US President Donald Trump had also denounced the UN resolution, and even warned in a Twitter post last year that “things will be different” following his inauguration.

Earlier this year, the US House of Representatives even passed a resolution confirming US commitment as a diplomatic ally to the Israeli government, and demanded that the US government dismiss any future UN resolutions they deemed “anti-Israel.”

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UNESCO: Israel is an ‘occupying power’

MEMO | May 2, 2017

UNESCO today voted in favour of a resolution which describes Israel as an “occupying power” and denies its sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem.

Twenty-two countries voted in favour of the resolution which was submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan.

The text which was voted on included the following phrase:

All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and must be rescinded forthwith.

This led ten countries to vote against the resolution including the Italy, UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece and Germany, Paraguay, Togo and the Ukraine.

However it does state that Jerusalem is an important city to the “three monotheistic religions”, a clause a previous UNESCO vote passed in October last year did not include.

Twenty-three countries abstained.

Read Also: ‘Israel blackmails developing countries for votes at UN’

May 2, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is illegally occupied

By Ramzy Baroud | Ma’an | October 26, 2016

Did Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, actually read the full text of the UNESCO resolution on Palestine and Israel, before he raved with anger?

“I think this is a mistaken, inconceivable resolution,” he said.

“It is not possible to continue with these resolutions at the UN and UNESCO that aim to attack Israel. It is shocking and I have ordered that we stop taking this position (his country’s abstention) even if it means diverging from the position taken by the rest of Europe,” he added.

Renzi, who became Prime Minister in 2014 at the relatively young age of 39 knows exactly how the game is played. In order to win favor with Washington, he must first please Tel Aviv.

His country has abstained from the October 12 vote on a resolution that condemns Israel’s violations of the cultural and legal status of Occupied East Jerusalem. This decision has ignited the ire of Israeli Ambassador to Rome, Ofer Zaks, who riled up the Jewish community in Italy to protest the abstention. Renzi, in turn, was converted into a champion of the ‘Temple Mount’, the name Israel uses to describe the Palestinian Muslim holy site.

Renzi cravenly went on damage control mode without truly understanding the nature of the resolution, which merely condemned Israel’s obvious violations of international law, and only calls for Israel to respect the status of Palestinian culture in the occupied city.

None of procedures that led to the vote on the UNESCO’s resolution – voted by 24-6, with 26 abstentions – violated protocol, nor was any of the wording inconsistent with international law. In fact, UNESCO was merely doing its job: attempting to protect and preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the world.

Jerusalem is a sacred and a holy city to a majority of humanity, simply because it is significant to the spiritual wellbeing of the adherents of the three monotheistic religions. In fact, the resolution stated so:

“Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions …”

Renzi’s outburst is quite disappointing, to say the least, for the young, eager politician simply tried to score cheap political points with Israel – thus the United States – without a full, or even partial comprehension of what the UNESCO resolution resolved. Nor did he seem aware of the fact that such text is largely a repeat of what has been discussed by the world’s leading cultural organization in April, and repeatedly before that date.

“If anyone wants to say something about Israel, let them say it, but they should not use UNESCO… To say that the Jews have no links to Jerusalem is like saying the sun creates darkness,” he said, paraphrasing the sentiment displayed by the Israeli Prime Minister.

It would be rather sad if Renzi sees a mentor in Benjamin Netanyahu, for the latter is one of the least liked world leaders who has made a mockery of international forums and derided the United Nations itself as anti-Semitic and its process as ‘theater of the absurd’.

This is what Netanyahu had said in response to the resolution and shortly before he suspended his country’s membership in UNESCO. Using a language that is as amusing as his cartoon depiction of the Iranian nuclear bomb in his famous UN spectacle in 2012, he said:

“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 or that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids.”

Other Israeli officials followed suit with a chorus of denunciations, included Israeli President, Reuven Rivilin, who described the decision as an “embarrassment” for UNESCO. Culture Minister, Miri Regev, cut to the chase, by labeling the resolution “shameful and anti-Semitic.”

In fact, it was neither.

In addition to Renzi’s odd reaction, the United States and other western governments reacted with exaggerated anger, again without even addressing the situation on the ground, which prompted the resolution – and numerous other UN resolutions in the past – in the first place.

Even the Czech parliament jumped on board, voting to condemn what they described as a “hateful, anti-Israel’ sentiment.”

I have read the resolution repeatedly to pinpoint the specific text that could possibly be understood by Israel’s friends as hateful, to no avail. The entirety of the text was based on past international conventions, resolutions, international law, and refers to Israel as the Occupying Power, as per the diktat of the Geneva Conventions.

The Italian, Czech, American anger is, of course, misdirected and is largely political theater.
But, of course, there is an important context that they refuse to address.

Israel is working diligently to appropriate Muslim and Christian heritage in East Jerusalem, a city that is designated by international law as illegally occupied.

The Israeli army and police have restricted the movement of Palestinian worshipers and is excavating under the foundation of the third holiest Muslim shrine, Haram al-Sharif, in search of a mythological Temple.

In the process of doing so, numerous Palestinians, trying to defend their Mosque from the attacks staged by Israeli occupation forces and extremist Jewish groups, have been killed.

How is UNESCO to react to this?

The resolution merely, ‘called on Israel’ 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 Al-Sharif.”

Moreover, it ‘stressed’, the “urgent need of the implementation of the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.”

Where is the ‘hate’ and ‘Anti-Semitism’ in that?

Israel’s anger is, of course, fathomable. For nearly fifty years, following the illegal occupation and annexation of the Palestinian Arab city, Israel has done everything it could possibly do to strip the city of its universal appeal and Arab heritage, and make it exclusive to Jews only – thus the slogan of Jerusalem being Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital.’

Israel is angry because, after five decades of ceaseless efforts, neither UNESCO nor other UN institutions will accept Israel’s practices and designations. In 2011, following the admission of ‘Palestine’ as a member state, Israel ranted and raved as well, resulting in the US cutting off funding to UNESCO.

The latest resolution indicates that Israel and the US have utterly failed to coerce UNESCO.

What also caused much fury in Tel Aviv is that UNESCO used the Arabic references to Haram al-Sharif, Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim religious and heritage sites. The same way they would refer to Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza and China’s Great Wall by their actual names. Hardly anti-Semitic.

Since its establishment atop Palestinian towns and villages, Israel has been on a mission to rename everything Arabic with Hebrew alternatives. Recent years have seen a massive push towards the Judaization of Arab Christian and Muslim sites, streets and holy shrines, a campaign spear-headed by the Israeli right and ultranationalist groups.

To expect UNESCO to employ such language is what should strike as ‘absurd’.

Not only should the UNESCO resolution be respected, it should also be followed by practical mechanisms to implement its recommendations. Israel, an Occupying Power should not be given a free pass to besiege the holy shrines of two major world religions, restrict the movement and attack worshipers, annex occupied territories and destroy what is essential spiritual heritage that belongs to the whole world.

October 28, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlighting Israeli violations of a world heritage site is not ‘inflammatory’, UNESCO, it’s a duty

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By Nasim Ahmed | MEMO | October 15, 2016

A draft decision by UNESCO, which criticises Israel’s activities at holy places in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, has been denounced by Israeli officials. “It ignores thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem and aids Islamist terror,” claimed Education Minister Naftali Bennett very dramatically.

Never one to miss an opportunity to conflate Judaism and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Facebook post that UNESCO had become a “theatre of the absurd”, to which he added: “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 or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.”

The World Jewish Congress, meanwhile, called UNESCO’s announcement an “inflammatory, one-sided decision” as Israel took the predictable step of freezing co-operation with the UN cultural body which seeks to “contribute to peace and security” by safeguarding world heritage and cultural sites.

The UNESCO decision, however, does none of the things that the Israelis and their supporters claim. The draft decision “affirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions” while 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”.

Israel’s problem with the UNESCO decision emanates from the simple fact that it has no way of reconciling its colonialist policies in the West Bank and Gaza with international law. Israeli officials were just as quick to denounce the International Court of Justice’s decision on its construction of the “separation” wall or the dozens of UN Security Council resolutions condemning the construction of illegal settlements. Like its condemnation of the UNESCO decision, Israel extorts political gain by claiming security concerns and its fight against “Islamist terrorism”.

The 58 member of the UNESCO board voted this week on a draft document that raises concerns about Israel’s violation of international law. Israel, predictably, hopes to deflect these concerns by conflating Jewish history with Israeli policy. The draft text, which was passed by 24 votes in favour to six against, with 26 abstentions, noted the following:

  • 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 the request to Israel to prohibit all such works in conformity with its obligations under the provisions of the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
  • Called on Israel, the Occupying Power, to allow for the restoration of the historic status quo;
  • Strongly condemned the escalating Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the Awqaf [Religious Endowments] Department and its personnel, and against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site;
  • Deplored the continuous storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by right-wing Israeli 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-Aqsa Mosque;
  • Deeply decries the continuous Israeli aggressions against civilians including Islamic religious figures and priests, and urges Israel, the Occupying Power, to end these aggressions and abuses which inflame the tension on the ground and between faiths;
  • Disapproves of the Israeli restriction of access to Al-Aqsa Mosque and called on Israel to stop all violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque;
  • Criticised Israel’s refusal to grant visas to UNESCO experts in charge of the UNESCO project at the Centre of Islamic Manuscripts in Al-Aqsa Mosque;

Raised 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, to halt such demolitions, excavations and works and to abide by its obligations under the provisions of the UNESCO conventions.

The draft resolution, which also goes on to deplore the continuous Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and reaffirms the integral link between Palestine and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, is a full scale condemnation of Israel’s total lack of disregard for Al-Aqsa Mosque, and its refusal to act in accordance with UNESCOs recommendation in maintaining the sanctity of the religious sites that are holy to all three Abrahamic faiths. Despite the best efforts of Israeli officials to paint this decision as yet another anti-Jewish declaration it is actually nothing of the sort.

A UN body such as UNESCO has a duty to highlight Israel’s ongoing annexation and colonisation of Palestine. It has an even bigger obligation to raise awareness of the systematic efforts by hostile parties — no matter who they are — to seize control of world heritage sites. Only in the eyes of Israel — the Occupying Power, remember — could that be seen as “inflammatory”.

October 15, 2016 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Garifuna Communities of Honduras Resist Corporate Land Grabs

FINALLY 2

By Samira Jubis | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | September 23, 2015

The fate of the Garifuna people of Honduras hangs in the balance as they face a Honduran state that is all too eager to accommodate the neoliberal agenda of U.S. and Canadian investors. The current economic development strategy of the Honduran government, in the aftermath of the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, has not only benefited the political and economic elite in Honduras, but it has also encouraged the usurpation of some of the territories of indigenous peoples of this Central American nation. The often-violent expropriation of indigenous land threatens the Garifuna’s subsistence.

The Garifuna people are descendants of African slaves and two indigenous groups originally from South America—the Arawaks and the Carib Indians. In 1797, the British deported 5,000 Garifuna, also known as Black Caribs, from St. Vincent to Roatán. Since then, the Garifuna people have immigrated throughout North and Central America.[i]

Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra are home to two of the forty-eight Honduran Garifuna communities along the Honduran Atlantic coast corridor. Due to an ecologically rich geopolitical position, these regions have attracted foreign-backed investments, including tourist and recreational centers, natural resource extraction industries, and self-governing corporate zones. The concept of “self-governing” does not apply to democratic procedures of native citizens, but to the domination of foreign elites who view the Garifuna land as a mere means to the private accumulation of wealth.

Mega development projects have been advertised as a stimulus to economic growth and employment within the country. However, in practice, they have aggravated discrimination and harassment against indigenous and ethnic groups, whom developers generally perceive as obstacles to the expansion of such economic projects. Hence, the Honduran political system, in thrall to ambitious tycoons and foreign interventionism, has infringed on the Garifuna community’s relationship to and management of their ancestral lands. The displacement of these Honduran Afro-descendant communities from their ancestral lands for the development of economic projects accelerated after the coup d’état of June 28, 2009 against the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, and the installment of a U.S. backed golpista regime.

The United States and Canada perceived the center-left policies of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as an intolerable restraint on American and Canadian investment objectives in Honduras. The alignment of Honduras with the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe along with stricter domestic reforms to rein in the damage caused by neoliberal policies, emboldened the U.S.-Canadian intervention in the Honduran political system. The coup brought the golpista regime of Roberto Micheletti (June 28, 2009 to January 27, 2010) to power and was followed by the subsequent election of two right wing presidents. Tegucigalpa has pursued policies that are more obedient to the economic consensus of Washington and Ottawa, reversing its march towards progressive land and labor reforms and opening the doors wide to foreign investors. As a result, Honduras has been the bloody stage for human rights violations against those who have resisted some of the more intrusive features of the neoliberal economic model.

The Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, for example, possessed title deeds of full ownership to their ancestral territories. However, the U.S. and World Bank-backed 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law not only led to the expansion of Tela’s city boundaries, but also stimulated future transactions of ancestral lands without consent of the Garifuna community members.[ii] Grahame Russell is the director of Rights Action and has devoted his life to protecting human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Russell points out: “All along the north coast, most particularly in the Tela Bay and Trujillo Bay areas, Garifuna villages are being pressured—with false legal documents, with forced sales and with repression—to sell their lands and territories to international tourism operators that are supported by the illegitimate and repressive Honduran regime.”[iii]

The municipality of Tela sold ancestral territories to a corporation called Inversiones y Desarrollos del Triunfo S.A de C.V. The municipality later issued construction permits for the development of tourist projects, such as the Indura Beach and Golf Resort.[iv] Government officials and foreign investors have overlooked the Garifuna people’s opposition to these projects. In turn, there have been frequent territorial disputes between the investors and members of the Garifuna community. In 2014, the Honduran national police and military officials attempted to violently dislodge the Garifuna population from their lands. Despite the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring that the Garifuna culture is one of the nineteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2001), violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities. Oscar Bregal and Jesus Alvarez, two committed Garifuna leaders, were murdered in 1997 while protesting against the violation of the human and civil rights of the Garifuna communities. Oppression and harsh conditions been the principal causes of displacement and emigration of the Honduran Garifuna inhabitants

According to the Indura Beach investors, the first phase of this US $120 million tourist-complex development has created 400 direct jobs and 800 indirect jobs.[v] The Honduran Tourism Institute insists that these jobs have primarily benefited the communities around the complex, especially the Garifuna communities. These benefits, however, have not reached the hands of the Garifuna population. As a matter of fact, unsustainable tourist projects have threatened the Garifuna people’s food sovereignty. As stated by Miriam Miranda, leader of The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), the Garifuna people cannot continue to exist without the land required to grow their subsistence crops. Foods like rice, beans, and yucca not only make up the Garifuna daily diet, but also represent critical components of the Garifuna culture. The women of the communities sow and harvest the land for household consumption and income. The Honduran state’s failure to protect the interests of these Honduran citizens has led Garifuna indigenous communities to request the intervention of international organizations.

From August 24 to August 29, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held its 53rd period of extraordinary sessions in Honduras. During the sessions, the court visited the Garifuna Communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra to commence proceedings against the Honduran state. OFRANEH— speaking on behalf of the Garifuna inhabitants of Triunfo de la Cruz, Punta Piedra, and Cayos Cochinos—claimed that Honduras has failed to ensure these communities’ right of land ownership as well as their right to free, prior, and informed consent. Although Honduras has ratified the International Labour Organization Convention no. 169, and the Honduran constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous and ethnic peoples, the Honduran Garifuna communities continue to face discrimination and harassment within the Honduran economic and political systems. The petition of the Honduran Garifuna communities was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights on October 29, 2003. [vi] Following the commission’s hearings, the Honduran state agreed to put in place measures to protect the property rights of the Garifuna people. The state, however, has failed to uphold this agreement.

In February 2013, the commission submitted the case Garifuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members v. Honduras to the Inter-American court after the Honduran government failed to inform the Commission of the measures it had taken to enforce the property rights of the Triunfo de la Cruz inhabitants.[vii] This case not only confirms state collaboration with the violation of Garifuna people’s rights in Honduras, but it also challenges the effectiveness of the international community—in this case the court’s jurisdiction, in protecting those rights.

It has been 12 years since the petition was presented to the commission and the Honduran Garifuna communities are still living in despair and fear. Do we hear their call for justice in the North? Russell remarks that “while OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities are waiting for the Inter-American Court to render its final decision, which—if justice is to prevail—will find in favor of the Garifuna people, against the actions and omissions of the Honduran State, they are not depending on it.” Furthermore, Russell adds that the Honduran Garifuna communities, “resist peacefully, resolutely, on and on, from one community to the next.”

The usurpation of ancestral territories by multinational corporations backed by the political and security structure of the Honduran state has evoked justified skepticism among the Honduran Garifuna communities in regards to neoliberal economic policies that put profits before human needs and respect for participatory democratic procedures. While the Garifuna communities are still waiting for the court’s final decision on their case against the State of Honduras, they have been committed to voicing their grievances. The leadership and determination of the Honduran Garifuna has encouraged other indigenous and ethnic groups in the western hemisphere to fight against hegemonic neoliberal policies that threaten their ability to live and develop in community.

Featured Photo: Chachahuate, a small Honduran island inhabited by Garifuna communities. From: Dennis Garcia

[i] Escure, Geneviève, and Armin Schwegler. “Garifuna in Belize and Honduras.” In Creoles, Contact, and Language Change Linguistics and Social Implications, 37. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=622399.

[ii] Brondo, Keri V. “La pérdida de la tierra y el activismo de las mujeres garífunas en la costa norte de Honduras.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 9, no. 3 (May 2008): 374.

[iii] Grahame Russell, e-mail message to author, September 20, 2015

[iv] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 159, 160.

[v] Diario El Heraldo Honduras. “Lista Primera Etapa De Indura Beach and Golf Resort.” Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.elheraldo.hn/alfrente/566419-209/lista-primera-etapa-de-indura-beach-and-golf-resort.

[vi] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 1.

[vii] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (2013). IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court. Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2013/076.asp [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].

September 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UNESCO rescinds US and Israel’s voting rights

Al-Akhbar | November 8, 2013

UNESCO has suspended the voting rights of Israel and the United States, two years after they stopped paying dues to the UN’s cultural arm in protest over its granting full membership to the Palestinians, a UNESCO source told Reuters.

Both countries decided to cancel their funding in October 2011. The American decision was blamed on US laws that prohibit funding to any UN agency that implies recognition of Palestinian demands for their own state.

The US missed a Friday deadline to provide an official justification of its non-payment and a plan to pay back its missed dues, the UNESCO source said, automatically triggering the suspension of voting rights.

Neither the United States nor Israel “presented the necessary documentation this morning to avoid losing their right to vote,” a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Two separate diplomatic sources also confirmed the deadline had been missed, triggering the suspension of voting rights.

There was no immediate comment at the office of the US envoy to the UN agency.

UNESCO designates World Heritage sites, promotes global education and supports press freedom among other tasks.

The withdrawal of US funding – which to date amounts to about $240 million or some 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget – has plunged the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization into a financial crisis, forcing it to cut programs and slash spending.

With the US and Israel withdrawing their contributions UNESCO’s budget fell from $653 million to $507 million.

The reduced budget means some 300 people at UNESCO are in danger of losing their jobs. In 2012 the UN agency employed 1,200 people at its headquarters in Paris and 900 around the world.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, who was re-elected in October, raised $75 million in a bid to deal with the agency’s financial crisis.

“The list of countries that will lose their voting rights will be announced probably tomorrow (Saturday) in a plenary session,” the same UNESCO source said.

The loss of voting rights for two member countries comes as Washington tries to keep US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians afloat.

Both parties have signaled the lack of progress in the talks, revived in July after a three-year hiatus but stymied over Israeli plans to continue building illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have so far failed in their bid to become a full member of the UN, but their UNESCO membership is seen as a potential first step towards UN recognition of statehood. In November 2012, the UN General Assembly granted Palestine non-member state status in a landslide vote.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Syria: Fate of Historic Christian Town Still Unknown

Maaloula is considered a heritage site by UNESCO, where a number of ancient Christian churches and monasteries are located. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
By Abdel Rahim Assi | Al-Akhbar | September 9, 2013

Reports coming out of the ancient Christian town of Maaloula remain unclear as to whether the Syrian army has in fact regained control after radical Islamists entered it last week.

Until Sunday, September 8, news reports of Maaloula conflicted each other. Some reports suggested that the hardline al-Nusra Front managed to filter back into the town after the Syrian military claimed it had expelled the militants and re-established security. Yet the town’s representative in the Syrian parliament, Maria Saadeh, explained that the army had in fact regained control of Maaloula after having been forced to retreat briefly for “tactical reasons.”

The number of casualties cited has ranged between four and 20 dead, in addition to four to 15 kidnapped locals.

Saadeh added that most of the residents are still in their homes, reluctant to leave due to the presence of snipers dug into the cliffs that surround the town, although some women and elderly people did manage to leave when the army first entered the area.

Maaloula is considered a heritage site by UNESCO, where a number of ancient Christian churches and monasteries are located. The town lies over 40 km from Damascus near the Lebanese border. Saadeh noted that some reports of the fighters’ targets were exaggerated, while confirming that at least two historic churches were heavily damaged.

The MP insisted that the attack on the town was not essential from a military point of view, saying that the fighters could have easily bypassed it in order to carry out attacks on army checkpoints in the area. But, she says, they wanted to enter Maaloula to vandalize and destroy it, adding that many residents confirmed to her that the fighters they saw were of foreign nationalities, including Chechens and Libyans.

She said that targeting the historic town was part of a larger plan to drive Christians out of Syria, pointing to many examples such as the attacks on a number of Christian areas in Damascus, Homs, and the Jazira area in the north.

By assaulting such a symbol of Christianity in the area as Maaloula, she maintained, the fighters are sending a message to the community that they must leave Syria, after having driven them out of Iraq over the last decade. Saadeh completely rejected European offers of refuge to Syria’s Christians, insisting that they have no intention of abandoning the deep roots and heritage that connect them to the Levant.

September 9, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Settlers Raise Israel’s Flag On Top Of Ibrahimi Mosque

By Saed Bannoura | IMEMC & Agencies | April 26, 2012

A group of Israeli settlers raised Israeli flags on top of the fourth holiest site in Islam, the Ibrahimi Mosque in the southern West Bank city of Hebron. This is the first time ever since Hebron fell under Israeli occupation in 1967.

Image - Milad News Agency
Image – Milad News Agency

The Milad News Agency reported that head of the Waqf and Endowment Department in Hebron, Zeid al-Ja’bary, slammed the provocative move and stated that “this is an attack against the religious and historic stature of this site to millions of Muslims around the world”.

He added that this is a “seriously dangerous provocative act” targeting the holy site.

The Israeli Prime Minister and his coalition partners have declared the Ibrahimi Mosque, also referred to as the “Cave of Patriarchs”, to be part of the Jewish Heritage sites; a move designed to preclude the Palestinian attempt to have UNESCO officially include the Old City of Hebron on its list of historic and archeological cities.

Hebron Governor, Kamel Hameed, held the Israeli government responsible for provocative acts and attacks carried out by settlers in Hebron.

Hameed told the Milad News Agency that “writing street names in Hebrew, renaming the mosque, and placing iron and electronic gates on its entrances are provocative acts that are meant to prevent the Muslims from entering it”.

He added that the Ibrahimi Mosque “is in the hearts and minds of millions of Muslims around the world”, and added that Israeli settlers are pushing the region into instability.

Hebron Mayor, Khaled al-Aseely, stated that this act is part of Israel’s violations against Islamic Holy sites and the historic heritage of the region, and falls under Israel’s ongoing violations, including the Israeli decision to consider the mosque as part of the “Jewish heritage sites”, a decision that was rejected by numerous human rights and cultural institutions around the world.

April 27, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Municipality creates garbage dump inside Bab Alsbat cemetery next to Lion Gate in the Old City

22 February 2012 | Wadi Hilweh Information Center – Silwan

Large quantities of waste are being piled by the Jerusalem Municipality inside the Islamic cemetery (Bab Alsbat) next to Lions Gate in the old city, in a move that has upset and offended the City’s thousands of Muslim inhabitants. The Lions Gate, which lies close to the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, is now awash with the overpowering stench of accumulated garbage.

One resident stated that the Jerusalem Municipality “is unashamedly discriminatory in its practices. They not only use a sacred place as a rubbish dump, they even burn the rubbish here, inside a holy place  the Bab Alasbat cemetery. Why has UNESCO not tried to stop the Municipality?”

A resident Christian priest of the Old City told Silwanic that he considered the Municipality’s actions unlawful, and encouraging of racism in Jerusalem.

February 23, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 2 Comments