After learning that the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee planned to consider a resolution that would remove the Jewish name of a historical site that has shared importance among followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, NAE President Leith Anderson wrote Chairperson Lale Ülker and Rapporteur Eugene Jo. Unfortunately, on October 26, UNESCO adopted the controversial resolution by a vote of 10-2 with 8 abstentions.
Dear Ambassador Ülker:
As you meet on the 68th United Nations Day to discuss UNESCO Draft Decision Item 25 (200 EX/PX/DR.25.2 Rev.), please consider the impact your decision may have on inter-religious cooperation. The United Nations was founded to promote peace, justice and human rights. The U.N. Charter commits its members “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours” (Preamble to the United Nations Charter). The U.N. has recently given renewed attention to the important role that faith groups play in achieving this reality.
In light of this commitment, any actions or statements made by UNESCO about world heritage sites with religious significance should be done in a way that promotes peace and understanding. As currently drafted, however, Decision Item 25 would do the opposite, by overshadowing the religious and historical significance of this location — not only to Muslims but also to Christians and Jews.
For Jews, it has been the Temple Mount from the time of King Solomon (1000 B.C.E.) through its destruction by Rome in A.D. 70. For Christians, including the millions of evangelical Christians in the United States who are represented by the National Association of Evangelicals and its member organizations, it is important not only due to our shared heritage with Judaism, but because it was where Jesus taught on multiple occasions. Both of these predate the Muslim presence at the site. Therefore, we request that the site be referred to as the Temple Mount as well as Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif. It is a sacred location for more than half of the world’s population, important to adherents of all three faiths, and should be recognized as such.
UNESCO has an important mission to identify historical sites and facilitating their preservation for the benefit of all peoples. Please recognize this site for what it is — a place that is revered by followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which should be available for people of all faiths and none to appreciate. This site offers the opportunity for adherents of each of these faiths to appreciate their shared heritage and gain better understanding of each other. With shared access — including improved collaboration on archeological projects that would enhance understanding and preserve priceless artifacts — we believe that this site can be a center for peace and understanding rather than division.
Considering the serious unresolved conflicts in the region impede cooperation and peaceful co-existence, UNESCO should take particular care to be balanced and fair in any statements about sensitive issues. UNESCO is chartered to preserve historical sites for the benefit of all humankind. The proposed action would exacerbate division between peoples rather than bringing them together. Therefore, we encourage you to vote against this decision in its present format.
Very sincerely yours,