In a move that poses a threat to Israel’s security, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is expected to list Jericho as one of its sites, citing the location of the Biblical city as being in the fictitious state of “Palestine.” The committee will be voting on a total of 53 natural and cultural sites when it meets in Saudi Arabia in September.
In its application, the Palestinian Authority wrote:
“The long and diverse history of Jericho narrates the undisputed story of 10,000 years of human civilization. It witnessed some of the most significant cultural milestones of human history, is one of the oldest towns on Earth, and is unparalleled in all human history. Jericho is a unique example of well-documented settlements of different development stages of human civilization.”
The World Heritage Committee is made up of 21 voting members: Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, and Zambia.
Jericho, located in the Jordan Valley, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with signs of habitation dating back to 9,000 BCE. Jericho is mentioned many times in the Bible, most notably as the first city conquered by Joshua in Israel. In addition to its role in the Bible in the time of Joshua and as the home of Elisha the Prophet, there are two ancient synagogues that attest to the historical Jewish presence in Jericho: the Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue first built in the 6th century and still in use today and the Wadi Qelt Synagogue which dates from between 70 and 50 BCE and is one of the oldest synagogues ever found.
Rabbi Levi Sudri, an award-winning Bible expert, noted Jericho’s spiritual significance.
“In the Bible, we see that Jericho is the key to all of Israel, Rabbi Sudri told Breaking Israel News. “If you have the key in your hand, only then can you enter, but after you do, the entire land will be open in front of you.”
As noted in the Israel Bible, the first time Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible is in response to Joshua conquering Jericho.
When King Adoni-Zedek of Yerushalayim learned that Yehoshua had captured Ai and proscribed it, treating Ai and its king as he had treated Yericho and its king, and that, moreover, the people of Givon had come to terms with Yisrael and remained among them Joshua 10:1
The rabbi noted that the two cities seem quite different in many respects.
“Jerusalem is the heart of Israel, and Jericho is on the edge,” Rabbi Sudri said. “Jerusalem, whose name means ‘complete,’ is symbolized by the sun, whereas Jericho’s name contains the word Yareach (moon). Though they are adjacent on a map, they are actually quite distant from each other, with Jerusalem on a mountaintop and Jericho in the deepest part of the world.”
“But there is a strong connection between Yericho and the Temple in Jerusalem,” Rabbi Sudri said. “Jericho’s name comes from the word re’ach (smell) because the smell of the incense from the Temple could be smelled in Jericho.”
Located 40 kilometers from Jerusalem, Jericho is the largest city in the Jordan Valley and is currently occupied by some 18,000 Arabs. It was designated as Area A in the Oslo Accords and, as such, is under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority. Jews are prohibited from entering Jericho. With the Jordan River to the east, Bet Shean to the North, and the Dead Sea to the south, the valley covers 926 square miles or almost one-third of Judea and Samaria.
The Jordan Valley was illegally occupied by Jordan in the 1948 War of Independence. Israel conquered the region in the 1967 Six-Day War. Though conquering territory in a defensive war is recognized as valid by international law, UN Resolution 242 allowed for the fate of parts of Judea and Samaria to be determined by bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The UNESCO website, describing Jericho makes a single passing reference to the Biblical narrative. The UNESCO description then rejects the Biblical narrative, writing, “Though archaeological excavations apparently show that Jericho’s mighty fortifications had collapsed around 1550 BC, at the end of the Middle Bronze age, before the time assumed for Joshua’s conquest”. UNESCO names the site as “Ancient Jericho/ Tell es-Sultan”, stating that the name “Jericho” is the ancient Canaanite God of the moon. It should be noted that the Hebrew word for moon is “Yareach”.
The UNESCO site never uses the word “Jewish” or “Israel”, though it uses the word “Palestine” ten times.
While there has never been an independent country named Palestine, UNESCO designated the region as “Palestine” in 2011. UNESCO then designated three sites in Israel as World Heritage Sites in Palestine: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2012; the ancient terraces of Battir in 2014; Hebron’s Old Town, including the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in 2017, and the ancient terraces of Battir in 2014. The Old City of Jerusalem is also listed by UNESCO as a Palestinian Heritage site.
The PA has filed requests for UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to recognize 13 other sites, including Sebastia, also known as Samaria, the site of the former capital of ancient northern Israel; the Biblical Mount Gerizim, Shechem, the burial site of Biblical Joseph, and the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
The World Heritage Committee has recognized nine Heritage sites in Israel,
After President Trump and Israel left UNESCO in 2019 due to anti-Israel bias, the US rejoined the organization last month despite a law prohibiting funding institutions that recognize states that don’t meet international standards of statehood, which includes the “State of Palestine.”
Israel has not rejoined UNESCO but its officials are still invited to attend the World Heritage Committee meeting because it remains a state party to the World Heritage Convention.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with Director-General Audrey Azoulay in Paris in June to discuss the possibility of Israel rejoining. During the meeting, Cohen asked Azoulay for UNESCO to work with Israel to preserve ancient Jewish biblical sites in the West Bank from being destroyed by the Palestinians.
“Jewish heritage sites in Judea and Samaria were damaged and looted, and UNESCO, which is responsible for preserving heritage sites worldwide, must act to prevent damage to sites that represent the history of the people of Israel,” Cohen told Azoulay.
The Israeli government allocated NIS 120 million last year for a plan to protect ancient Jewish archaeological sites in Area C, which is under IDF military and civilian control. Archeological sites in Area A and B are open to predation as Jews may not enter those areas.