Newly-released information from the European Commission shows that in 2019, the EU authorized seven grants allocating some 11.8 million euros for projects in Jerusalem for implementation by NGOs, some of which were specifically geared towards the European Union’s “urgent need to preserve the Palestinian identity of East Jerusalem.”
One of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith is the Temple Mount — the site of the destroyed Holy Temples of Jerusalem — which is also the third holiest site in Islam, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. This site, and the Western Wall — another of the holiest sites in Judaism, the sole remnant of the Holy Temple, its retaining wall, are both located in “eastern” Jerusalem.
The Israeli government is deeply committed to the maintenance and upkeep of these sites; and yet without doubt, the Palestinian Authority has done what it can to transform them both into political footballs — in particular, the Temple Mount, over which the Arabs have much more to say, since there are two mosques within the compound and since the Israeli government shortly after the 1967 Six Day War made a concession to give the Hashemite King to allow Jordan to have religious control over the site through the Islamic Waqf Council.
One of the NGO projects in eastern Jerusalem even sought to “protect Islamic and Christian Waqf religious and cultural heritage properties against Israeli violations and threats.” (italics added)
Of the 38,447 grants listed on the European Commission’s updated Financial Transparency System (FTS) authorized worldwide in 2019, the only examples dealing with “religious and cultural heritage properties” in a highly conflictual framework are embedded in the Palestinian Authority context,” according to a report published Friday by the NGO Monitor watchdog organization.
The EU’s politicized framework regarding Jerusalem is shared by some troubling actors, including the EU-designated terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In July 2020, after Israel arrested several directors of Palestinian cultural institutions in Jerusalem on terror and money-laundering charges, the PFLP published a statement echoing the EU’s language and asking the EU to intervene against Israel’s “strik[ing] the Palestinian narrative, culture and national identity,” and “target[ing] Islamic and Christian holy sites, as well as all of the Palestinian national heritage that constitutes the features of the city of Jerusalem.”
In 2018, the European Commission published its “annual action program in favor of Palestine for 2018 (including one action on budget 2019 and 2020).” One aspect, detailed in Annex 3, is the “Support to East Jerusalem in 2018, 2019 and 2020,” for which the EU adopted a “strategic approach to sustain the presence of the Palestinian population and protect the Palestinian identity of the city.”
Towards this goal, the EU prioritized the “protection of Palestinian heritage and culture as there is an urgent need to preserve the Palestinian identity of EJ, based on the restoration of historical sites in the Old City and the promotion of cultural life and activities in EJ.”
The EU further defined “Palestinian culture and heritage in East Jerusalem are protected” as a strategic objective. As specified, “this will be done through (i) preserving cultural and historical sites with a special focus on the Old City and the surrounding area, (ii) supporting cultural, arts and music activities, and co-ordination amongst cultural related organizations in the City; (iii) ensuring Palestinian cultural heritage remains in the curriculum.
According to the EU, this is necessary to ensure that “the shrinking space for cultural organizations does not become too restricted for [Arab] organizations to continue to operate (closing of Bank accounts, detaining staff/performers, shutting down activities while in performance, cancelling registration of organizations, etc,)” and that “the Israeli Ministry of Antiquities does not completely further renovation works [sic].”