In recent years, UNESCO has been exposed to increasing scrutiny for its hasty declarations, questioning not only the credibility of the organization, but also its integrity. And that is a bruise that must cut close to home because the original goal of UNESCO was to protect the world's endangered heritage following the horrors of World War II. The vision was to not only save and protect, but to conserve and cultivate heritage in an authentic manner for generations to come - regardless of race, ethnicity and religion. After all, the goal of that bitter war was to wipe out nations and civilizations. Today, authenticity has been largely lost, politics have secured a seat at the organization's Paris headquarters and culture is now a religion.

Perhaps the most sensitive point of reference today is the Old City of Jerusalem. In recent news, UNESCO approved a draft decision, asserting the religious significance of “the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions". This, we all know. It is the story of mankind since the beginning of time. However, problems arose with the rest of this resolution with manipulation of historic association. When the Temple Mount is mentioned - known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif and in Hebrew as Har HaBayit (literally), the draft refers to the site only using its Islamic name, despite the fact the location is home to the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam. The amazing part of all this is the pressing question, who died and crowned UNESCO g-d? Under what pretense does one assume the power to make such decisions? 

Ever since ISIS launched n its rampage on heritage, UNESCO has been struggling to find a way back to political discourse, to try and secure its place back on the agenda. And so it seems this is the strategy. Manipulation is now the way to attract attention. I guess the idea is, "if you can't beat them, join them".

What power does UNESCO really have today if, for the last several years, ISIS is on a 'crash and burn' strategy of heritage across the Middle East and laughing all the way to the bank? Who gave them this power? You? I? Is this power legitimate? Quite frankly, who is the imbecile sitting upon his imagined thrown and making these decisions?

At a time when the Middle East is practically walking on eggs and under massive tension, such decisions can literally intensify conflict. Such a tactless and biased decision invites only separation. These so-called representatives study international relations, diplomacy, political science, etc. to attain prestigious degrees in the hopes to secure these positions, but what happened to History 101?

A tour through the archaeological sites in the city of David, within the Old City and all the way to Masada change the picture. Add to this a sea of references and findings online and in the world's most sophisticated libraries and archaeological labs, with antiquities linking a direct connection between the people of Israel and Jerusalem, including Temple Mount. For those who may not know, the Temple Mount is considered to be the place where the world as we know it came to be. From here, Adam was brought forth to life.  The Ark of the Covenant was set upon the Foundation Stone itself! The First and Second Temples were built on this mountain; first by King Solomon 3,000 years ago. It was then destroyed by Nevuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Second Temple was raised on the ruins just 70 years later. The Roman legions attempted to scrape it 1,900 years ago.  The Western Wall that we visit today is an actual remnant of the western Temple Mount's walls. There is no other place like this on earth. 

I was touring the Old City with family yesterday and came across an incredible treasure trove of antiquities run by a the Baidun family. Mr. Baidun warmly welcomed us into his historic archive along the narrow alleyways of the Muslim Quarter. If there was a place to sit he would probably invite us to do so, but every base that looks seat-worthy is occupied by papers, books, magazines and artifacts. There we found rings from the time of King Herod, precious coins, jars and mugs used for cooking, manuscripts and Old Testaments dating back 2,000 years. When asked how he found all these treasures, "the rain washes away everything and reveals it all". There we were, exchanging stories and talking History 101 (finally), supposedly my enemy simply because he is of another religion and inhabiting a shared land. I realized that 'enemy' is a state of mind that literally comes from the mind. And then I think, 'if only an international TV reporter was here right now to see this'. Then again, why would there be one? This moment defies the need for sustenance and provocative storytelling.

I continue along the market and we are greeted by merchants who converse with each other saying in Arabic, 'no one is coming in, what to do?' Many of them show off their impressive English skills. Their very living depends on tourism. Aside from the fact that they all pretty much sell the same things, such a claim by UNESCO only promotes a split, and a reluctance to visit. I purchase several gifts from different shops to share the wealth and give some feeling of hope. The gift shops may be empty but the restaurants are packed full of Israelis, and tourists. Evidently, here, hummus is the discourse of the day.

You can't visit this place and stay closed minded. You realize that it's layer upon layer, story upon story, just like the layers of history and archaeology to be found here. In this very moment, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Russian Orthodox, the Armenian Church and other streams of faith coexist in Jerusalem. Brushing shoulders in the market. Walking along the same paths. Best friends? Probably not, but still, coexisting. Are you best friends with the neighbors in your building? That is, if you've ever even seen them at all.. Do we have to be family? Not at all. Can we live together? Absolutely. Do we need to make certain compromises? Sure, we can. With the right people at the table, at the right time, it will happen. As long as fools don't intervene with their own agenda.

Jews don't need to live at the entrance to the Temple Mount; it's not the point. The intention is the clear recognition that this holy place does hold historic, religious and cultural importance to the people of Israel. And as I write this, I realize what all those meditation practices and self-awareness life-lessons aim to teach me: you should never seek recognition from anyone outside yourself. It's a lost battle to begin with so why waste time and energy? You are to know who you are and that is enough. 

The more international intervention here, the greater the damage. It is not UNESCO's business to determine emotional, historic and factual connections to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Its job is to continue to conserve, preserve, develop, fundraise and connect people. UNESCO's job is to unite, not to divide. A new generation of policy leaders, politicians, diplomats and ambassadors must come to the United Nations and flip over those discussion tables because all this organization is currently inspiring is in fact, separation and conflict.

Here's a tip: If the supporting nations who drafted this resolution would like to do any good at all, they ought to roll their sleeves and get to real work. How about looking at those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) again? Now would be a good time to get with the program and promote the MDGs which included culture as a means for economic development, and highlighted the power of education and contribution of women in the workplace to achieve these goals. On the table and in print, it's exactly what the world should be doing more of: creating new pathways for development to allow people to thrive. Stop digging in the past hoping for something to change, to tell a different story. Tell a new story.

Think about it, UNESCO as we know it may be completely irrelevant one day. Perhaps it's time for a Jewish UNESCO and an Islamic UNESCO? 

Published by Eleonora