MK Dan Illouz, a member of Likud and the Land of Israel Caucus, sent a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay calling for the Biblical city of Jericho not to be listed as a UNESCO heritage site in “the State of Palestine.”
“UNESCO must recognize the ancient history of the Land of Israel and preserve its history without distorting it for political purposes,” Illouz wrote. “Actions like these undermine the organization’s credibility and, more importantly, harm the State of Israel. The Palestinian Authority (PA) systematically works to erase all connections between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. This is evident on the Temple Mount, where valuable archaeological findings have been destroyed, and it is also happening in Judea and Samaria, where there is constant vandalism and deliberate destruction of biblical evidence. It is our duty to stop this and insist on our right to our land against enemies from within and outside.”
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee will vote on the status of the site it refers to as Tell es-Sultan in its 45th session scheduled to be held in Riyadh on Sept. 10-25. The committee will be voting on a total of 53 natural and cultural sites when it meets in Saudi Arabia in September. 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.
On Sunday, the Land of Israel Caucus, Regavim, and Binyamin regional leaders held an “emergency tour” of biblical Jericho.
“We commend UNESCO for recognizing the historical significance of ancient Jericho. Indeed, its biblical context should be world-renowned,” Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Gantz, who led the tour, said.
“This must be done within the framework of the truth. I call upon the organization to carefully consider this move and to recognize this important site for what it is—the first city conquered by the Jewish nation entering the Land of Israel, and the site of many historic biblical events. It has always been significant for the people of Israel, our Jewish heritage and for everyone who reads the Bible and knows its history,” Gantz said.
Jericho, located in the Jordan Valley, is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, with habitation signs 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.
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, Beit 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 “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 Heritage site, but it does not assign it a country.
The PA has filed requests for UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to recognize 13 other sites in Israel as “Palestinian,” 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.
In a 2016 resolution, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, in the name of the “State of Palestine” on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”
UNESCO passed 47 resolutions in 2009-2014, 46 of which were directed against Israel and one of which criticized Syria.