UPDATED: UNESCO and the Denial of Jewish History

For years there has been a concerted effort by Palestinians and Muslim states to rewrite history and eradicate any Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest sites. The latest attempt takes the form of a UNESCO resolution sponsored by Arab states that essentially erases Judaism’s connection to the Temple Mount, calling it only by its Arab name. 

This follows closely on the heels of  a similar Palestinian-Jordanian draft resolution to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in July 2016  that simiilarly called for a return of the Temple Mount to its alleged “historic” status quo before 1967, as if history starts and ends with the 19 years of Jordanian domination over the site when Jews were barred from visiting.

These resolutions are clearly based on falsehood and distortion. But UNESCO has a history of siding with anti-Israel forces: In April 2016,  it passed a very similar politically motivated resolution condemning Jewish visits to and policing of the Temple Mount, which it similarly referred to only by its Arab terms – al-Aksa Mosque/al-Haram al Sharif. While France, a member that voted for the April resolution, subsequently apologized for this, Palestinians and Muslims were encouraged to step up their campaign. France did not vote against the latest resolution, but abstained from voting. 

Despite negative reactions to the draft resolution by UNESCO’s director-general and others, the resolution passed by a vote of  24-6, with 26 abstentions.  Media outlets reporting on such ahistorical, politically motivated actions should make sure to include the historical facts and implications of such moves.


The Temple Mount has always been Judaism’s holiest site. Jewish reverence for the site long predates the building of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in the 7th century CE, and even predates the construction of the first Jewish Temple by King Solomon almost 2000 years earlier in 954 BCE. The Solomonic Temple was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the Even Hashtiya, the foundation stone upon which the world was created. It is considered the epicenter of Judaism, where the Divine Presence rests, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was again rebuilt in 515 BCE before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Temple Mount is also known as Mount Moriah, mentioned frequently in the Torah.

The Western Wall is the remnant of the outer retaining wall built by Herod to level the ground and expand the area housing the Second Jewish Temple. Its holiness derives from its proximity to the Temple site and specifically its proximity to the Western Wall of the Temple’s Holy of Holies – the inner sanctuary that housed the Ark of the Covenant and where the High alone was permitted to enter on Yom Kippur, the holiest day. For the last several hundred years, Jews have prayed at Herod’s Western Wall because it was the closest accessible place to Judaism’s holiest site.

These historical facts were not challenged by Muslims in the past. In 1924, when Palestine’s Jews and Muslims were occupied by the British, the Supreme Moslem Council published an English-language tourist guide to the site that readily acknowledged the Temple Mount’s centrality to Jews as “beyond dispute.” Entitled “A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif,” the guide stated:

The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David [Solomon’s father, the preceding Israelite king] built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.

Well, times have changed. The Council’s honest description of that time has been replaced with dishonest historic revisionism. The current head of the Supreme Moslem Council – former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem — Sheikh Ekrima Sabri denies historical facts in an attempt to invalidate Jewish claims Jerusalem. Sabri’s campaign to erase Jewish history goes back decades.

In 1997, he proclaimed:

The Al-Buraq Wall [Western Wall] and its plaza are a Muslim religious property, and the Israeli government’s decisions do not affect it…The Al-Buraq Wall is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it. (Al Ayam, Nov. 22, 1997)

In 1999, he told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg:

If the Jews want peace, they will stay away from Al Aksa This is a decree from God. The Haram al-Sharif belongs to the Muslim… (New York Times Magazine, Oct. 3, 1999)

His erasure of Jewish history extends to Holocaust denial. In 2000, he stated:

Six million Jews dead? No way, they were much fewer. Let’s stop with this fairytale exploited by Israel to capture international solidarity… (Interview in La Republica, March 24, 2000, translated by MEMRI)

Over the years, Sabri has continued in his attempt to marshal the religious fervor of the Arab and Muslim world against Israeli control of Jerusalem. He frequently revisits the same historical revisionism. For example:

Their [the Jews’] allegation that Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the rubble of Soloman’s Temple is unproven and is far from the truth. The truth is, when Almighty Allah determined that Al-Aqsa would be here, it was impossible that a place of worship of non-Muslims had been there before. This is hatred and envy. They are envious of us because of the existence of Al-Aqsa in our land. They want to steal Al-Aqsa. (PA TV, Oct. 21, 2005, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)

Sheikh Sabri said that in the holy texts of the Quran and the Hadith, the Jews do not have any rights to the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. Therefore, this site is holy only to Muslims, and no one among the heavenly religions shares it with them. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, June 23, 2009, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)

[Sheikh Sabri] noted that the [Israeli] occupation has targeted these holy places because they link the world’s Muslims and Christians to the land of Palestine. In addition, he emphasized that history bears witness to the fact that there are no historic Jewish landmarks [in Palestine], and that they [Israel] invent and falsif
y history through the construction of synagogues. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 5, 2015, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)

Sabri is not the only one who claims supremacy over the contested holy site by erasing a Jewish connection. Pinhas Inbari, an Israeli reporter on Palestinian Affairs and writer for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, describes the competing regional interests and internal religious struggles over Jerusalem’s holy sites, between such parties as the Jordanian Waqf (the Islamic religious trust that manages the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount); Islamic sources affiliated with Turkey; the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party; Hamas; Sheikh Raed Salah’s Northern Islamic Movement; and Hizb ut-Tahri (the Islamic Liberation Party). With all vying with each other for supremacy over the site, they are united in denying non-Muslim claims to and freedom of worship on the contested mount. 

According to Inbari, Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Islamic Liberation Party) is currently the dominant force on the Temple Mount. Founded as an anti-Hashemite party opposing Jordan’s authority over Al-Aqsa, its goals are to establish a global Islamic caliphate to be proclaimed from the site. Hizb ut-Tahrir completely rejects the influence of Western culture, of anything non-Islamic, including agreements and accords with non-Islamic parties, such as the Oslo accords. It not only repudiates Jordan’s authority over Al Aqsa, but rejects the aspirations of parties affiliated with Turkey, which it views as Westernized, that also want to restore an Ottoman caliphate on the Temple Mount.

An analysis of Hizb ut-Tahrir by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) notes that the only difference between this party and ISIS is in how they choose to prioritize their goals:

While ISIS has already established its caliphate in the Middle East, intending to expand it gradually, Hizb Al-Tahrir believes that the path to establishing the global caliphate is through confrontation with the existing superpowers.


The implications of declaring Muslim supremacy over the site are far-reaching. Already, those preaching from the Al Aqsa mosque are agitating for war against Jews, other non-Muslims and the West.

Here some nuggets from the sermons given at the Al Aqsa mosque:

I say to the Jews loud and clear: The time for your slaughter has come. The time to fight you has come. The time to kill you has come. Allah willing, we are ready for the task – we and the loyal and faithful Muslims, along with the armies of the state of the Islamic Caliphate, which will come to liberate this land from your filth. (Nov. 28, 2014, Sheikh Omar Abu Sala, translated by MEMRI)

Oh nation of Islam, only a real Caliphate is capable of satiating your hunger, of defending you and your honor, and of liberating your Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the defilers. (March 6, 2015, Sheikh Abu Abdullah, translated by MEMRI)

America will be trampled by the hooves of the horses of the Caliph of the Muslims, Allah willing… (March 13, 2015, Sheikh Abu Abdullah, translated by MEMRI)

…our main war is with whom? With the Byzantines, with America and Europe – with France, with Britain, with those places… I am optimistic that when the Emir of the Believers writes to the Chinese, they will convert to Islam…As for the Russians, they are stubborn, but once Moscow is liberated from the shackles of the USSR, of Bolshevism, of the Czar, and even of Putin, they will join Islam, and that will be that. The problem will be with America and Europe, but we are ready for them. [Allah], who supported us in the Battle of Badr, will support us in a second battle of Badr… The Islamic Caliphate must be restored, so that it will lead the armies to war against the infidels. Then we will bring about a second battle of Badr, and a third, and a fourth…(July 4, 2015 Palestinian cleric Issam Amir, translated by MEMRI)

America’s crimes in Muslim countries are known to all. Any action carried out, any explosion and any operation in which a Muslim is killed in Muslim countries, America stands behind it, together with the infidel West that hates Islam and Muslims. It doesn’t matter who takes responsibility for the crime and who announces it. We will never believe it. We will never believe it. We will never believe it because America is the one that blows up Muslims and it is the one that kills Muslims. (July 8, 2016, Sheikh Ali Abu Ahmad, translated by Palestinian Media Watch)

ISIS too has released a series of videos calling on Palestinians and Muslims to “liberate Al-Aqsa from the defilement of the sons of apes and pigs [i.e. the Jews]; ” “combat the Jews and Christians, who work day and night to convert Muslims;” and “Know that the soldiers of Islam are fighting here in Iraq, Syria, Khorasan [Afghanistan], and West Africa, but their sights are set on Bayt Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]. They will yet enter it and conquer it, with Allah’s help. This is the promise of Allah, and Allah does not break His promise.”

The demand by Palestinians and other Muslim groups to usurp Jewish holy sites through historical revisionism should not be dismissed as merely an academic or political dispute. Were these groups to achieve their goals in expelling Israelis, Jews, and non-Muslims from the site, the disastrous results would resonate far beyond the Middle East.

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