Al-Quds: Unesco upholds legal justice

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S Qamar Afzal Rizvi

PROTECTING world’s historical, cultural, and religious sites remains one of the sublime missions of Unesco. Recently a Unesco resolution stated that Al -Aqsa and other holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem are an “integral part of Palestine, thereby espousing the Palestinians’ claims. The organisation also condemned Israel, “the occupying power,” for planting fake graves in Muslim cemeteries. The resolution positively upholds the decree of international law which precludes the Israeli occupation, annexation and demographic demarcation of Jerusalem.
The October 18 resolution was passed—at the committee stage when 24 Unesco member states supported the measure (6 states, including the U.S., voted against; 26 abstained; and 2 state missions were absent for last week’s vote)— ‘’recalling the provisions of the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their additional Protocols (1977), the 1907 Hague Regulations on Land Warfare, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its related Protocols, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), the inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls at the request of Jordan on the World Heritage List (1981) and on the List of World Heritage in Danger (1982), and the recommendations, resolutions and decisions of Unesco on the protection of cultural heritage, as well as resolutions and decisions of Unesco relating to Jerusalem, also recalling previous Unesco decisions relating to the reconstruction and development of Gaza …”
The declaration, which was initially submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, officially claims those sites as the “Cultural Heritage of Palestine.” Palestine was given the Unesco membership in 2011 with 107 votes in favour, 14 against and 52 abstentions. While examining the legal truth in terms of international law, it is incumbent to evaluate the juridical effect of three facts: first, the right of sovereignty of the people of Palestine over Jerusalem; second, the internationalisation of Jerusalem by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1947; and third the occupation and annexation of the city since 1948.
The bottom line is: not only Israel’s occupation and annexation of Jerusalem lacks the legal basis; it also undermines international law, the resolutions of the United Nations and the rights of the Palestinians. Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1948 or 1967 remained an act of aggression under international law. Israel’s sweeping argument— that its forces did occupy modern Jerusalem during the war which broke out in 1948 between Israel and Arab states—is not justifiable because Jewish forces had seized and occupied Arab quarters of modern Jerusalem in 1948 albeit before the end of the British mandate and even before any Arab armies penetrated into Palestine.
Despite the fact that Israel has at all times been a military occupier, it has acted in Jerusalem as if it was a sovereign power. It has annexed both the modern section and the Old City, transformed its demography, physical features and historic character and taken several other measures in violation of the city’s legal status, of international law and of United Nations resolutions. The current resolution condemns Israel for its activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank and declares that the Western Wall and Temple Mount henceforth will be referred to by their Arabic names. The UN will reference the Hebrew terms for the sites only in quotation marks. The Morocco declaration in 1982 affirmed “the commitment of Islamic States to liberate Al-Quds to become the capital of the independent Palestinian State, and to reject any situation which might infringe on the Arab right to full sovereignty over Al-Quds”.
Israel suspended cooperation with Unesco instantly, a day after the U.N. cultural agency adopted a draft resolution that Israel says denies the deep, historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel captured east Jerusalem, with sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 Mideast war. Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” Bokova, the head of Unesco, said in a statement.
Israeli authorities have recently approved the construction— of a three-storey residential building for Jewish settlers in a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, which is in blatant violation of the UN and the EU’s resolutions regarding the Jewish settlements. Unesco disapproves the ongoing Israeli illegal actions inside the Old City that harmfully affect the integrity of the sites. Although US might use its veto to foil any action against the settlements in the Security Council, there are other options for soliciting the ICC forum. With the support of the Arab and Muslim states, the Palestinian Authority (PA) could file a lawsuit against Israel, not least because international law discerns the occupation and settlement of land to be a war crime.
In 2015,a US- based court did not accept the Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, as the applicant had sought to solicit his status of Israeli citizenship since he was born in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the core of dispute between Arabs and Jews. Palestinians claim the territory as part of their future state. While giving an interview to New York times, Donald Trump has assured that he wants to play a role of peace mediator regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.” I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Mr. Trump said. Will Trump be able to deliver justice to the Palestinians whose fate remains dwindled in US-Israel power nexus? Trump’s real task is to strike a course that might revive and revitalize the Quartet peace diplomacy-the only hope towards a two-state solution.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.