Israel’s Foreign Ministry has issued a scathing response to the decision by the UNESCO Heritage Committee to classify the ancient city of Jericho as a “World Heritage Site in Palestine” during its meeting on Sunday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Israel slammed the decision, which it said was made “despite the many and sincere efforts of the Secretary-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, to balance the decision.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers the decision made today as another sign of the Palestinians’ cynical use of UNESCO and the politicization of the organization,” the ministry said.
“Israel will act in accordance with its many friends in the organization in order to change all the distorted decisions that were made.”
The decision refers to the archaeological site of Tel es-Sultan – also known as Tel Jericho — a prehistoric ruin dated to 9500 BCE that is located within the city of Jericho. With its decision, UNESCO has unilaterally declared the Biblical city of Jericho to be located in the non-existent “State of Palestine.”
UNESCO assistant director general Ernesto Ottone made an effort to differentiate between Tel Jerico (Tel es-Sultan) and the historic city of Jericho described in the Bible during the meeting discussing the classification of the site.
“The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tel es-Sultan located outside the antique site of Jericho,” Ottone explained.
“Later historical developments, which span over millennia and are demonstrated by material remains beyond the boundaries of Tel as-Sultan, constitute a rich cultural context worthy of historical interest and preservation, covering among others Jewish and Christian heritage. However, this is not the focus of the proposed nomination.”
UNESCO accepted the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign member state in 2011, thereby conferring de facto statehood to the entity, which has studiously avoided fulfilling its obligations under the internationally recognized Olso Accords to negotiate a final status agreement with Israel.
Israel and the United States both quit UNESCO in 2019 over the organization’s bias against Israel and its ongoing approval of decisions that repeatedly attempt to sever the historic connection between the Jewish State and the Holy Land.
The United States subsequently rejoined the international body under the administration of President Joe Biden, and because Israel is still a party to the World Heritage Convention, the Jerusalem government sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh.
“The Palestinian Authority works systematically to erase all ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel,” Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz wrote last week on X, formerly Twitter, condemning the impending decision and urging Azoulay to block it.
“A decision to assign Jericho to ‘Palestine’ would “constitute a blatant interference by UNESCO in a conflict in which it is not its role to intervene. Jericho is first and foremost a city of biblical significance. Blurring this fact is an insult to millions of Jews and Christians all over the world. It is our duty to stop the PA’s subversion and insist on our right to our land,” Illouz wrote.
Among the sites of Jewish heritage in Jericho are the Hasmonean Winter Palaces, King Herod’s Third Palace, the above-mentioned Byzantine-era synagogue dating back to the 6th or 7th Century CE, ritual pools (mikvahs), and nearby burial caves used by priests of the Second Holy Temple.