November 4, 2016

GOA Student Activists Take on UNESCO

Kim Robins ‘17

On Tuesday, October 18, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved the Occupied Palestine resolution that sets guidelines for preserving the various holy sites in Jerusalem. The resolution, which came before UNESCO in 2015 but passed a preliminary vote on October 13 of this year, describes the Temple Mount complex using only Arabic terms found in Muslim scripture.
Occupied Palestine has been criticized for its failure to address the historical and religious significance of the Temple Mount complex, which includes the Western Wall, to Jews and Christians. Jewish and pro-Israel activists in particular accuse UNESCO of ignoring evidence confirming that the Holy Temples stood at the site over 2,000 years ago. Many call the resolution an attack on Israel itself.
This is not the first time that the UN has acted unfavorably towards Israel. The UN Security Council and UNESCO in particular have passed a disproportionate number of anti-Israel resolutions - for example, four percent of the Security Council’s resolutions between 1955 and 2013 explicitly condemned Israel and have given the Palestinian territories powers typically reserved for sovereign nations.
International leaders, including UNESCO chief Irina Bokova, have spoken out against Occupied Palestine for its unfairness. Others support the resolution fervently, sending death threats to Bokova for her stance. Others still, such as Mexico and its UN representatives, have changed their stances on the resolution and are forcing UNESCO to recount the vote.
GOA students have their own strong opinions on the resolution.
“Denying Jewish... historical and religious connections to the Temple Mount is ridiculous,” said senior Emma Weiss.
She noted that Jews, Muslims and others all have “serious ties” to the Temple Mount that the international community must recognize.
Senior Ari Esrig agreed that the resolution is unfair and that “anti-Semitic Muslim countries” allowed it to pass.
While senior Daniel Cohen opposes UNESCO’s treatment of the Temple Mount as an exclusively Muslim holy site, he is more concerned about a different section of the resolution.
“The central issue is the criticism of Israel for violence and destruction concerning the Gaza strip,” he said, “[but a complete disregard for] the damage done by denizens of the Gaza strip to Israeli civilians. I noticed that while Israel is repeatedly criticized for harming Palestinian children, there is not a word to recognize the attacks made on Israeli children.”
Angered by these injustices against Israel and the Jewish people, many GOA student activists have decided to fight the resolution themselves.
After the preliminary October 13 vote, several students including junior Matan Kogen and senior Lindsay Biebelberg took to Facebook using #thingsthatarentconnected; a hashtag meant to condemn UNESCO for implying that the Jews have no connection to their most sacred place. Some students, including Weiss, signed a petition asking UNESCO to acknowledge the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount. A few have drafted their own statements against the resolution or have spoken out in other ways.
The debate over Occupied Palestine remains contentious and has generated more media coverage than any other recent UNESCO resolution has. GOA students have taken the resolution to heart and are working against it using the historical knowledge and communication skills they developed at school. Though their voices may be small amidst those of global leaders, these students have made their views clear: the UN will always be held accountable for its discrimination, ignorance and inaccurate facts.

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