The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization known as UNESCO has been criticised for declaring the ruins of ancient Jericho to be a Palestinian Heritage site. The listing refers to the archaeological site which contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BCE.
It is around two kilometres from the remains of the first city of Jericho, which contains ruins of importance to Jewish history including a synagogue dating back to the first century BCE. UNESCO which refers to the Palestinian Heritage site as Ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan clarified that the two sites are distinct. The decision was taken at a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of UNESCO.
Jericho is often referred to as the “oldest city in the world” and critics say the UNESCO resolution eradicates its Biblical connection. The book of Joshua describes how the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land and then encircled Jericho for six days, according to the commandment of God. On the seventh day, they circled the city seven times, blew the trumpets and the walls came down.
“On Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, UNESCO passed a resolution recognising as a Palestinian Heritage site, the ancient city of Jericho – and at the same time, erasing all references to the city’s ancient Jewish and biblical history,” Professor Eugene Kontorovich from the George Mason University Scalia Law School told CBN News.
The modern city of Jericho is a major draw for tourism to the Palestinian territories, both because of its historical sites and proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled major renovations to one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East, in a Jericho palace dating back to the 8th century. The Authority welcomed the UNESCO decision to recognise Ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan as a Palestinian Heritage site.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the latest resolution was another sign of the “politicisation” of the United Nations. Israel quit UNESCO in 2019, accusing it of being biased against the Jewish state and of diminishing its connection to the Holy Land. Israel also objected to UNESCO’s acceptance of Palestine as a member state in 2011. But Israel remains a party to the World Heritage Convention and it sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh.
UNESCO has previously declared Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as “an integral part of Palestinian territory.” It is revered by Jews as the burial place of the wife of Jacob. The United Nations body did the same with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried.
The Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem are listed as a World Heritage site in Palestinian territory.