Lanu Faletau: UNESCO - Is the World Heritage Committee Another Politicized Event?

Today’s discussion surrounding ‘Al Khalil: Hebron’s’ inscription has probably been the highlight of the plenary sessions thus far. I witnessed intense submissions by committee members which basically resulted in a UNESCO sponsored floor show.

The topic up for discussion was the inscription of the ancient Hebron site which was submitted as being in a state of emergency by Palestine. In essence, Palestine was seeking Hebron’s inscription as a world heritage site, whilst Israel did not. Whilst I would like to explore the politics of this issue, for the purposes of my post I will not; and instead I am going to focus on the fiasco that played out before my eyes.

As always, the committee members were asked to discuss the site at hand and to consider all relevant factors regarding Hebron’s inscription. What resulted however was something I did not expect to experience in a professional environment let alone a United Nations headed event. During discussions I heard and empathized with many of the remarks that were being said. It was devastating to hear talks of violence and destruction in the area and even more so when I realized that this isn’t an isolated phenomenon. In fact, there are many parts of the world that is becoming more and more unlivable because of warfare, and I struggle to see an end to this any time soon. I say this with regret having witnessed the division amongst nations after Hebron successfully became inscribed by the World Heritage Committee as an endangered site.

This decision came with controversy following it’s nomination as an endangered site (which accelerates the usual 1 year process) and was against the advisory bodies recommendations. Before the decision was announced, the Ambassador of Israel ignored the usual process and approached the bench where intense discussions followed by yelling and extreme hand gestures took place between he and the Chairperson. He was asked to be seated to which he complied so that the secret ballot could take place. As the results rolled in, we were all eagerly anticipating what more was to pan out. Alas, ‘Al Khalil, Hebron’ will in fact be inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site. As the decision was celebrated by various delegations around the room, everyone was waiting the Ambassador of Israel’s response, finally… his country marker goes up and he begins to speak. Without going into the logistics of what he said, what struck out to me the most was his closing statement, which was interrupted by his phone ringing, he paused picked up his phone and said something along the lines of:

“Sorry Mr Chairperson, my plumber in Paris is calling me as I have a problem with my toilet in my apartment, and I have to take this call because it is much more important than the decision that was just adopted.”

And true to his word, he took his call and left the plenary room.

Following this many more countries came forward with their perspective of whether or not the decision was a good call by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee  or irresponsible, divisive and politically motivated. The Australian and American remarks echoed this statement by emphasizing that this decision was highly politicized and will not resolve the issues but exacerbate them. Whether this statement is a political position in itself is to be explored by you…the reader.

Hearing the various perspectives prompted my thought process yet again, this time I ask: whether or not the international sphere is truly accomplishing anything, when the divide in this plenary room seems almost too great to fill. Isn’t this the United Nations? As in…unified? I’m not so sure anymore…Provided Israel’s response to the inscription, and the clear division in this room, it is difficult to see any constructive or peaceful talks occurring anytime soon.

To be continued…


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on July 10, 2017 and filed under World Heritage 2017.