The UN’s world heritage body has recognised the old city of the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site, sparking outrage from Israel.
The Unesco ruling on the city – which includes a holy site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque and Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs – comes despite furious efforts by Israel to derail the proposal.
Twelve countries on the world heritage committee voted in favour of the Palestinian request to name Hebron a heritage site, while only three voted against it. Six countries abstained.
The vote took place at the meeting Unesco annual summit, in Krakow, Poland, on Friday and was held as a secret ballot following a request from Israel, which believed that would mean countries were more likely to support its case.
Amid heated scenes, Israel’s Unesco ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen reportedly stormed to the desk of the session’s chairman after the vote, and accused the committee of not conducting a truly secret ballot.
Israel’s far-right education minister, Naftali Bennett, denounced the move and accused the body of being “a political tool, rather than professional organisation”.
“The Jewish connection to Hebron goes back thousands of years. Hebron, the birthplace of King David’s kingdom, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the first Jewish purchase in Israel and resting place of our forefathers – are our People’s oldest heritage sites,” he said.
“UNESCO’s resolution must be rejected, and our efforts to strengthen the city of our fathers increased.”
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 it was a “historical development because it stressed that Hebron” and its historic mosque “historically belong to the Palestinian people”.
Israeli had failed to have the motion on Hebron blocked despite the personal intervention of the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.
The move makes Hebron’s old city the third Palestinian world heritage site.
The resolution agreed by the committee also lists the old city and the religious site as being “in danger”, meaning the world heritage committee will discuss the area’s status annually.
Palestinians argued successfully that Israeli actions in Hebron – in particular by the Israeli military – threatened the Hebron’s cultural heritage.
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