06 July '15..
The rise of ISIS has been a tragedy for historical sites in the Middle East. Just as the Taliban destroyed monumental historical artworks in Afghanistan in the 1990s now the new Islamic “caliphate” has taken to undertaking the same sort of vandalism in Iraq and Syria in areas that have fallen under their control. The latest example came in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a UNESCO World Heritage site that is thousands of years old where the Islamists have begun pounding precious artifacts to dust this past week only days after ancient tombs were similarly destroyed. So, as media watchdog Honest Reporting notes, it was not inappropriate for CNN to publish a list of “the world’s most endangered structures on the verge of extinction” on its website. But astonishingly, ancient Palmyra, which according to its own reporting is under direct threat at this moment, didn’t make the CNN list. Not surprising, though disappointing, is the fact that the first item on the list was “the Old City of Jerusalem,” whose preservation, it said, was being prevented by “political tension” that exists “between Israel and UNESCO. This is an outrageous libel against the state of Israel, backed up by not a shred of proof (either on the CNN or the UNESCO websites) and perpetuates the most vicious myths propagated by Palestinian groups intent on whipping up anti-Semitic sentiments among Muslims.
In terms of the omission of Palmyra from the list, it’s difficult to imagine the thought processes of those involved in creating this article. Though the piece is the work of CNN’s Style section rather than its main news division, surely even the people working there ought to be aware that sometimes the news must influence even travel features. Indeed, the hyped language of its opening would seem to betray the notion that those responsible actually watch the news:
Go see them now, before it’s too late: threatened by neglect, the elements, changing architectural trends or ruthless developers, these outstanding buildings are all fighting a hard battle for survival.
Many of the structures that are listed after the Old City are of historical significance, but some are of questionable importance. Two from Britain, the Preston Bus Station and the Robin Hood Gardens of East London, date only back to the last half century and are examples of “brutalism” and are rather ugly structures that were not designed by UNESCO as worth saving for good reasons. Most are also not endangered by architecture critics or have outlived their original purposes like those two structures but are simply falling down due to neglect.
Including Palmyra on such a list, indeed listing it at the very top, would have made the article both newsworthy as well as accurate. Palmyra is a unique ancient city filled with amazing artifacts that would be worth visiting if it were not located in a country that has gone from a brutal dictatorship to a strife-torn battleground much of which now is in the thrall of fanatical Islamists determined to destroy any vestige of history that predates the Muslim conquest.
Which leads us to the obvious question as to why Jerusalem’s Old City should be included on a list of places that are about to disappear. The Old City is in the middle of an ongoing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. However, it is not about to collapse. Even more important, to say that its preservation is being prevented by Israel is a flat out lie.
To the contrary, the city’s reunification under Israeli sovereignty in 1967 marked the beginning of efforts to preserve and protect it for both its citizens and the world. The walls of the Old City were preserved, their grounds beautified through the efforts of the Jerusalem Foundation created by the city’s late mayor, Teddy Kollek, and turned into a beloved tourist attraction. The Jewish Quarter of the city, which lay in ruins before June 1967, was rescued from 19 years of vandalism at the hands of Jordanian authorities (Jordan illegally occupied the city from 1949-1967). Its homes have been preserved and its ancient historic synagogues (which were destroyed by the Jordanians) have been rebuilt. The Western Wall, which was used as a dump by the Jordanians was similarly honored by preservation of the ancient tunnels (an act protested by the Palestinians) and an archeological park and was created ensuring that this ancient and precious site will never again be treated in this manner.
It is true, as CNN says, that the Old City has been on a UNESCO list of endangered sites longer than any other. However, its placement there at the request of Jordan had nothing to do with any actual threat to the place. Rather, it was simply a political ploy by the Arab world that considers Jewish control over any part of Israel’s ancient capital to be illegitimate. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel allowed the Jordanians to be given a say over the Temple Mount and its mosques. But the mention of the mosques and the Muslim Wakf that controls them independent of any intervention by the Israelis should lead us to a discussion of what is really threatening Jerusalem and its Old City.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site of Judaism as well as the place where Muslims can worship at mosques that were placed there on the site of the ancient Jewish temple by Islamic conquerors. For the last century, Palestinian leaders have sought to convince their people that that returning Jews wished to destroy the mosques. Such canards were used to foment bloody riots and pogroms against Jews in 1921, 1929, and 1936. Even in the last year, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has tried to whip up similar sentiments to justify terrorism simply because some Israelis — opposed by the Netanyahu government — think Jews should be given the right to pray on the Temple Mount, the one vestige of the Jordanian practice of denying Jews access to their holy places.
More to the point, free from any interference from Israeli authorities seeking to preserve the Temple Mount, the Muslim Wakf has been undertaking construction on the site where antiquities dating back to the past — particularly the era when the Temples stood on the site — are being thrown out like garbage. But neither UNESCO nor CNN has anything to say about that.
So long as Israel maintains control over the Old City, the free access to its holy sites for all that only began in 1967 will be preserved along with its precious treasures and archeological excavations such as those being undertaken just outside the walls at the historic City of David. The only possible threat to its existence would be if the Old City were to fall into the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which has a history of allowing Jewish sites under its control to be destroyed, such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and an ancient synagogue in Jericho. Those who treat a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that would mandate Jerusalem’s partition must understand that such demands are tantamount to ensuring the destruction of World Heritage sites. But in the meantime, ignorant or malevolent media cheerleaders for Palestinian propagandists, such as those at CNN, will continue to spread libels about Israel rather than focusing on the real threat to ancient Jerusalem and completely ignoring the depredations of Islamist vandals.