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UNESCO to vote on Jericho as 'Palestinian World Heritage site'

PA has submitted 13 sites to World Heritage Committee hoping to gain Palestinian recognition

Elisha Spring Fountain at the entrance to Jericho (Photo: Shutterstock)

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is expected to soon vote to declare the ancient city of Jericho as a World Heritage site in the “state of Palestine” when it convenes in Saudi Arabia this September.  

UNESCO first recognized Palestine as a state in 2011 and currently lists three sites as being within the Palestinian state: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Al-Khalil Old Town of Hebron, including the Tombs of the Patriarchs, and the terraces of the “cultural landscape” of Battir, south of Jerusalem. 

Jericho, most famous for its connection to the Bible, is under the administration of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as it is in Area A.

Israeli citizens are forbidden from entering territories designated as Area A, thus they are unable to visit the archaeological site. 

The PA application to the World Heritage Committee mentioned “the long and diverse history of Jericho”, citing “10,000 years of human civilization.” 

What the application failed to mention is any connection to Jewish, Israelite or biblical history. 

The PA has made requests with UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee regarding 13 other sites, including Sebastia, the former site of Samaria, which Herod the Great rebuilt in the 1st century B.C., and Qumran, the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

The move comes as debates over archaeological sites in the Holy Land have increasingly become a part of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. 

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would begin protecting ancient Jewish archaeological sites in Area C of Judea and Samaria, internationally known as the West Bank. 

Besides the looting of archaeological sites in the territories, which has been an ongoing criminal problem, the Israeli government has identified damage to almost 1,000 sites due to “nationalist” motives. 

Several organizations have warned about the destruction of archaeological sites by Palestinians hoping to destroy proof of Jewish history in the land. 

When the Palestinian delegation to UNESCO submitted Sebastia as a potential World Heritage Site in 2012, the petition referred to the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and later Islamic areas of the city, but did not include a reference to the Israelite occupation of the site during biblical times. 

Even the UNESCO page for Sebastia does not use the word Jewish or Israelite to refer to the settlement at the site. 

Israel has documented several instances of destruction of biblical-era remains at Sebastia by Palestinians, often due to infrastructure improvements, such as roads or water works. 

After the PA paved a road over part of Sebastia's archaeological ruins in March, Knesset Member Dan Illouz of the Likud party said the PA was attempting to “erase Israel’s rich biblical history.” 

“The Palestinian Authority continues its horrendous attempt to erase Israel's rich biblical history,” Illouz said. “We will stop this atrocity and we will not allow them to demolish our past. Their fear of our history only highlights our eternal right to our land.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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