UNESCO Promotes Peace, Not Conflict

UNESCO is not fueling conflict, as claimed by Anav Silverman in her emotional and poorly-researched attack, UNESCO Fueling Cultural Conflict Over Hebron Holy Site. Quite the contrary. UNESCO has worked with great determination to bring Israel and Palestine together on cultural heritage issues.

It is therefore unfair and inaccurate to say that "UNESCO has worked tirelessly to undermine Israel's cultural and historical connection to holy sites." But rather than itemize the errors in Silverman's article, let me clarify how UNESCO's World Heritage Convention works and what it has done in Palestine.

The World Heritage Committee protects sites of "outstanding universal value." Its members are 21 countries elected by all the governments that have signed the World Heritage Convention. Now that it has joined UNESCO, Palestine too can sign the World Heritage Convention. Membership becomes active three months later.

Only then can Palestine nominate sites for the World Heritage List. Decisions are made by the World Heritage Committee after a recommendation by one of two independent scientific organizations -- the International Council on Monuments and Sites (for cultural heritage) or the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (for natural heritage).

Nominations must be submitted by countries before 1st February every year if they are to be examined by the Committee the following year -- unless the site is in imminent danger. Then an emergency procedure is activated and the nomination is considered at the next annual meeting.

The UNESCO office in Ramallah has been delivering projects to preserve cultural heritage in the Palestinian territory since it was established in 1998. In 2002, the World Heritage Committee recognized the value of Palestinian heritage. Since then, it has funded an inventory of cultural and natural heritage sites in Palestine as well as specific conservation projects and a range of training activities.

For many years, Israel has been a member of the World Heritage Convention. It has contributed to the decisions made by the World Heritage Committee and has six sites on the World Heritage List. They are Masada, the Old City of Acre, the White City of Tel-Aviv, Biblical Tels, the Incense Route and Bahá'i Holy Places.

It should be clear, then, that UNESCO is not trying to replace Israeli heritage with Palestinian heritage. Many cultures and religions have their roots in the Middle East and it is important to protect the heritage and cultural monuments of them all. Through this work, UNESCO promotes dialogue, mutual understanding and peace -- not conflict and confrontation.