The UNESCO World Heritage committee placed on Friday the Palestinian city of Hebron’s Old Town on its list of heritage sites in danger, sparking Israeli condemnation.
Taken after a Palestinian proposal, the resolution was fast-tracked on the basis that the site was under threat, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of an “alarming” number of violations, including vandalism and damage to properties.
The Palestinian foreign ministry called the decision made by UNESCO despite US and Israeli opposition a “success” for Palestinian diplomacy
Meeting in Poland, the UN’s cultural arm also voted 12 to three — with six abstentions — to give heritage status to Hebron’s Old City in the occupied West Bank, which is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Israeli settlers.
“Just inscribed on @UNESCO #WorldHeritage List & World Heritage in Danger List: Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town,” the organization said on its official Twitter feed.
Israel said that the decision’s wording ignored its historic links to the city. The Israeli ambassador to UNESCO left the session. Later, foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon immediately denounced the decision as “a moral blot”, saying it denied Jewish history in the city.
“This irrelevant organization promotes FAKE HISTORY. Shame on @UNESCO,” he wrote on Twitter after the decision taken in a secret ballot by the World Heritage Committee as it met in Krakow.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Education Minister, said in a statement that “Jewish ties to Hebron are stronger than the disgraceful UNESCO vote.”
Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, also heads Israel’s national UNESCO Committee.
The Palestinians hailed the decision.
Rula Maayah, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, said in a statement it was a “historical development because it stressed that Hebron” and its historic mosque “historically belong to the Palestinian people.”
Brought by the Palestinians, the resolution declared Hebron’s Old City, including areas where settlers live, to be an area of outstanding universal value.
Hebron claims to be one of the oldest cities in the world, dating from the Chalcolithic period or more than 3,000 years BC, the UNESCO resolution said.
At various times it has been conquered by Romans, Jews, Crusaders and Mamluks.
The city is home to the imposing Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of key Biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and one of the most important religious sites to Muslims and Jews alike.
Hebron is also a stark example of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The few hundred Israelis live closed off in several small settlements most of the world considers illegal, with Palestinians largely banned from entering and using nearby streets.
Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 war in a move considered illegal by the United Nations.
The Israelis living in Hebron are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers, with Palestinians saying the settlements makes their lives impossible.