The Capital of Arab Culture

UNESCO fights Israeli control in its own capital.

David Bedein,

David Bedein
David Bedein
credit David Michael Cohen

The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in cooperation with the Arab League, the PLO and
UNESCO is working with Palestinian Authority officials and key Arab figures in Israel.
the Palestinian Authority, have decided to recognize and celebrate Jerusalem as "the capital of Arab culture" for 2009.

Contrary to a common assumption that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its administrative arm, the Palestinian Authority (PA), demand "East Jerusalem" as a future capital for a nation-state of Palestine, their actual demand is for all of Jerusalem. The consistent term used today in the Arabic language for the Jerusalem aspirations of the Palestinians is al-Quds al-Sharif - holy Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem - not "East Jerusalem".

In that context, UNESCO is working with Palestinian Authority officials and key Arab figures in Israel to organize celebrations that they will turn into a huge event protesting against what they describe as "the Israeli occupation of Holy Jerusalem." The Palestinians' plan stems from the fact that 16 neighborhoods in West Jerusalem are constructed in place of pre-1948 Arab neighborhoods from which the Arabs fled during the 1948 war.

Since 1996, the title "capital of Arab culture" has been accorded by the Arab bloc in UNESCO to one of the capitals in the Arab world. This year, for example, Damascus, capital of Syria, was given the coveted title, and last year Algiers, capital of Algeria, received it. Other cities that have received the title over the years were Cairo, Tunis, Amman, Beirut and Khartoum. Jerusalem is the latest chosen to bear the prestigious title and now the Arab leadership is preparing to turn the title into a symbol of the battle against Israeli control of Jerusalem.

The basis for cooperation between the PA and members of the Arab population in Israel was laid recently in the Israeli Arab city of Shfaram, where a meeting took place between PA representatives and representatives of Israel's Arab population. They met to discuss preparations for the events associated with the title to be granted to Jerusalem.

One of the participants at the meeting with the PA representatives was Amir Mahoul, the chairman of Ittijah - the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations - the umbrella organization of the Arab NGOs in Israel and the chairman of a "committee for the defense of freedoms." Mr. Mahoul said that he believed Israel would try to create difficulties for the events that will take place in the framework of the declaration that "the capital of Arab culture" is Jerusalem.

"We expect Israel will make things difficult for us and this is a fact that we will take into account, and over which we will battle the Israeli occupation authorities," said Mr. Mahoul.

Mr. Mahoul stressed that he and the PA plan to turn the events associated with the title into a campaign against the occupation of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. "This will be an event symbolizing the battle against the
No member state of the United Nations maintains an embassy in any part of Jerusalem.
occupation, beyond the historical and cultural value of Jerusalem," he explained. "We will stress that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestinian-Arab culture, which is under occupation, and Israel should realize that every time there is a battle over Jerusalem, it loses."

In contrast to Mr. Mahoul, the Secretary General of Mada, the Arab Democratic Party, Mahmoud Mawasi, said that the purpose of the events was to raise awareness of the Arabic and Islamic past of Jerusalem, and not necessarily to create friction with the Israeli establishment. "We don't want to clash with the establishment," he said, "rather our intention is to celebrate the fact that Jerusalem was for many years the center of Arab and Islamic culture."

Although it is widely assumed that the Western nations recognize Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem, that assumption is not correct. No member state of the United Nations maintains an embassy in any part of Jerusalem. Every nation in the world, except for Israel, lists those of their nationals who were born in Jerusalem as having been born in Jerusalem, with no listing of the country of birth.

And that includes the United States.



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