On October 31, 2011, the bid proposed by the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas to have Palestine gain full membership in UNESCO was passed with a whopping 107 countries voting yes, 52 abstaining and 13 opposing. The bill played well for symbolism and acknowledgment of a very controversial land and perhaps even made Palestine look like it had decent sovereignty under the PA. Though within hours after the bill was passed the US, who had promised to veto it, held a press conference announcing that it would cut 60 million dollars of aid to UNESCO quite possibly putting the organization at risk. Washington only recently rejoined the UNESCO team under the George W. Bush administration after having pulled out in the 80’s and has been providing the organization with 22 percent of its aid.
UNESCO is the branch of the United Nations (UN) that calls for peace by educating through science, culture and history. By passing the bill, UNESCO not only recognized Palestine as a state but as a cultural and historical land proving that it has always existed, making Israel’s plan of making their country fully Jewish illegitimate.
After the aid cut- a call came from online activists for Palestine to start a project to raise the money cut by the US and donate it to UNESCO. Not only is that a large sum of money and perhaps probably not a main concern for some, but the aim is to make a statement to the US- we are not going to let you bully us with money.
Within a few hours, the project had broadened in most social media websites and hundreds climbed onboard, mostly from Europe. “YOU SHARE US’ SHAME OR DONATE TO UNESCO?” painted some blogs’ headlines and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages began springing up everywhere. Even a website called www.donateunesco.org was created, asking more people to join the campaign with hopes of returning the 60 million dollar paycheck the US snatched away.
But by making this statement, how are we really benefitting from it? Do we even benefit from it at all? Is UNESCO really on our side? With a little research, it’s not hard to uncover that the organization may have “Goldstoned” us and tricked us into thinking that it really cares about Palestinian rights. While as a whole, it might not be completely fickle, it has done its fair share of sweeping Israeli crimes under the rug which Palestinians cannot afford right now. At such a crucial time where Palestine is searching for recognition, UNESCO, at one point, was actually aiding in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people’s land in a subtle way.
UNESCO, which claims to preserve cultural and historical sights, did a bad job of helping to protect the Temple Mount, a sacred land located in Jerusalem for most monotheistic religions. The land was captured in 1967 during the six day war and has been under Israeli authority ever since. Israel has been illegally destroying Islamic artifacts in Temple Mount to conceal evidence that Muslims inhabited the land at any point. In 2007, a UNESCO session was held to hold Israel accountable for its crimes, but then was dropped and the Israeli government was never charged. This not only fuels Israel to continue to perpetuate said crimes again but also goes against what UNESCO stands for. It makes one wonder what the point of its existence is in the region if it’s just going to drop cases that are not only important to Palestinian culture, but to spiritual ones as well.
There is also the issue that the bid for statehood is not black and white. You cannot just recognize a state without actually acknowledging the state it is in now. While the outer appearance of UNESCO’s move with the statehood bid may look like a good idea, beneath it really is just another silly game of politics. The bid made by the PA calls for a two-state solution on 1967 borders that includes West Bank, East Jerusalem as the capitol and the Gaza strip, currently besieged by Israel, which means that is only 22% of Palestinian land giving Israel the rest of Jerusalem and the rest of the land it had already occupied in the past 63 years. However, a day after the bid was put in place, Israel called for the accelerated construction of 2000 illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem- on the very little land promised to the Palestinians for a future state. How can a state be built on a land that is still being seized by Israel? Surely it would be logical for a powerful organization like the UN to call for imposing sanctions on illegal settlement building first rather than call for a Palestinian state which, although is based on a map from 1967, doesn’t really have borders that aren’t under Israeli authority. Not to mention, scattered Israeli checkpoints infiltrating Palestinian land where Palestinians are often subjected to beatings and unfair detainment or stopped for hours making traveling from one city to another excruciating. Although these lands are promised to be included in a Palestinian state, they are also still under Israeli occupation. It seems as though the only thing promised by UNESCO is a Bantustan state, similar to the apartheid of South Africa, disallowing Palestine to ever be independent in the future.
But by stopping settlements, this goes completely against what Israel wants- which is more Palestinian land. The notion of a two-state is only emphasized on one side; the side of Israel. So why would we donate to an organization that will ultimately only provide for Israel in the end and not be as punctual about the problems of Palestinians? Another one of the issues being Palestinian refugee rights.
What will happen to the Palestinian refugees who rightfully dwell on their “Right to Return”. If a state is only settled on 1/3 of their land, where exactly will they return? Palestinians who dispersed in neighboring Arab countries being forced to spend the rest of their lives as refugees live in some of the most horrid conditions, especially those in Lebanon where the living has been compared to the besieged Gaza strip. It seems that by settling for this two-sate compromise, most will not even be able to go live in their land making their situation no different than it is now.
Although the recognition of Palestine may be enough for some, it is not enough to pledge such a large about of money that one can’t even promise will go to Palestine. In the end, words are words and it is actions that matter. UNESCO taking the reigns of the statehood bid only leaves us to an organization that continues to contradict itself, so long as it continues to surrender to Israel who has shown us that they are the ultimate decision makers. Why should the people finance something that goes against their morals?