PACBI Statement

UNESCO Accepts Palestine: Time for it to be Consistent on Israeli Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid!

December 1, 2011

Palestinians the world over have been encouraged by the overwhelming support from the UNESCO General Conference of Member States for the admission of Palestine as a full member in this key United Nations body.  Palestinians are hopeful that this historic decision will pave the way for UNESCO to be a more responsible player in the international community, particularly in upholding international law and UN resolutions concerning Palestinian rights.

Palestinians the world over have been encouraged by the overwhelming support from the UNESCO General Conference of Member States for the admission of Palestine as a full member in this key United Nations body.  Palestinians are hopeful that this historic decision will pave the way for UNESCO to be a more responsible player in the international community, particularly in upholding international law and UN resolutions concerning Palestinian rights. This is important at a time when Israel and the United States, a staunch supporter of Israeli violations of international law, have taken punitive action against UNESCO for its daring resolution.

We in the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) take this opportunity to thank UNESCO for its courageous stance on the membership issue.  We also want to reiterate to the UNESCO leadership important concerns raised by Palestinian civil society, particularly regarding the lack of clear and decisive UNESCO positions on the devastating effects of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism, and apartheid, which encroaches on all aspects of Palestinian rights, including education and culture.  On several occasions, UNESCO’s cooperation with Israel has ignored Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, thereby serving to cover up those violations, regardless of UNESCO’s intentions.

In 2008, PACBI addressed the Secretary-General of UNESCO in an open letter on the occasion of his visit to Israel [1], urging him to implement the UNESCO mission without double standards, and to work towards protecting Palestinian lives and heritage from Israel’s colonial and racist policies.  We warned that while preserving world heritage sites such as the “White City” of Tel Aviv, UNESCO was expected to explain what role it had played to date, if any, in holding Israel accountable for destroying ancient Palestinian buildings, irreversibly damaging Palestinian landscapes, littering them with illegal colonies and apartheid roads; systematically covering up and/or expropriating historical Islamic and Christian sites that attest to the deep-rooted Arab civilization in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem; and the unethical and illegal use of architecture and archaeology to reinvent the place’s history. [2]

Furthermore, UNESCO’s lack of a clear and firm position concerning occupied Jerusalem has been a constant concern.  We refer, for instance, to an event that took place at UNESCO headquarters one year ago, where the new Director-General convened Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian experts to discuss the UNESCO Action Plan for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Wall, inscribed on UNESCO‘s World Heritage List since 1981 and on the List of the World Heritage in Danger since 1982. [3]

It is unacceptable to Palestinian civil society that at this event there was absolutely no recognition by the Director-General of the Old City’s occupied status, being at the heart of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967.  In fact, the word “occupied” does not occur even once in the news item circulated by UNESCO.  By calling on “the participants to assure the international community that the parties concerned with the safeguarding of the Old City of Jerusalem are willing to cooperate,” the Secretary-General refused to recognize that the Israeli state has displayed flagrant disregard for international law, as attested to by Israel’s ongoing colonization and ethnic cleansing policies in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.

More recently, the Israeli Ministry of Education announced in November 2011 that UNESCO was co-sponsoring with it an international youth conference in occupied East Jerusalem, in clear violation of international law. [4]  Decisive action on the part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) and the intervention of Palestinian civil society and political figures led to the issuance of a public statement by UNESCO distancing itself from the Israeli conference, and reiterating UNESCO’s long-standing position which regards East Jerusalem as an inseparable part of the occupied Palestinian territory. [5] The statement did not, however, address the contested status of West Jerusalem, leaving much to be desired for a firm and unambiguous position by UNESCO on Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, such immediate attention was welcomed by Palestinian civil society, and it is our hope that this marks a new phase in the adoption, by UNESCO, of the provisions of international law concerning Jerusalem.

Additionally, UNESCO, in the past, has been implicated in sponsoring Palestinian-Israeli academic and cultural cooperation projects that equate the oppressor with the oppressed, thus normalizing oppression--something the Organization had notably avoided in the South African struggle for freedom and equal rights. The Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO) and joint educational projects, such as graduate programs involving Israeli universities, are among such harmful projects.  They cover up Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and absolve Israel’s academic and cultural institutions from their grave, persistent, and well-documented complicity in planning, justifying or otherwise abetting Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. In two letters to UNESCO in 2005 and 2010, PACBI expressed concern about UNESCO’s disregard for the call from Palestinian civil society for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel until Israel upholds international law.
 
In its 2005 letter, PACBI noted, “normal relations between peoples can only flourish after oppression has ended, not before and not as a prelude to it. From our perspective, the only joint projects that ought to be encouraged in the process of addressing injustice are those that contribute to resisting this injustice. At the very least, any sincere joint project must be fundamentally based on the principle of equality and the rejection of military occupation and racial discrimination. Unfortunately, both essential elements are glaringly missing from the IPSO project description and your endorsement of it. UNESCO‘s support for IPSO therefore legitimizes the attempt to convey a false perception of the possibility of peaceful coexistence and scientific cooperation despite oppression, rather than promoting all efforts to end this oppression.” [6]

In its 2010 letter, PACBI further noted, “joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that claim to be apolitical are the most blatantly politicized since they deliberately disregard the context of colonial oppression and misleadingly imply the possibility of achieving peace without addressing the root causes of conflict… Israeli academic institutions, with which UNESCO is partnering, are implicated in the structures of domination in many ways, both historically and in the present.  They bear substantial responsibility for planning, justifying and perpetuating the state’s colonial and apartheid policies and the consequent dispossession of the Palestinian people.”[7]

It is crucial to mention in this regard that UNESCO played a distinguished and widely commendable role in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, including supporting sanctions and boycotts.  UNESCO hosted no less than seven international conferences and seminars addressing a wide range of topics, including "solidarity," "resistance against occupation, oppression and apartheid," "sports boycott," "sanctions against racist South Africa" and the "educational needs of the victims of apartheid." [8] 

We take seriously UNESCO’s positions because of the strong role that culture, academia and heritage play in any colonial situation.  We look forward to a time when UNESCO adopts a consistent approach toward Israel, and spearheads the movement to impose sanctions on it and impose academic and cultural boycotts -- similar to those applied against apartheid South Africa -- until Israel complies with international law.  The blackmailing tactics of the United States and Israel should not intimidate UNESCO.  We expect more from the premier international cultural organization.

PACBI
[email protected]
www.PACBI.org

Notes:
[1] http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=91400
[2] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=669
[3] http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/671
[4] http://cms.education.gov.il/EducationCMS/Units/Mtna/TakeTheLeadership/Conference_Details/overview.htm
[5] http://www.bdsmovement.net/2011/unesco-statement-8372#.Tsap5MO8jVZ
[6] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=977
[7] http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1307
[8] http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=6849
 

December 1, 2011
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