UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, infuriated Israel on Friday as it voted to list the biblical West Bank city of Hebron, with its holy shrine sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as a world heritage site in danger.
Israeli officials complained that the agency described Hebron’s Old City as a “Palestinian heritage site,” prompting a walkout by Israel’s ambassador to the organization.
UNESCO spokeswoman Lucia Iglesias confirmed that on a Palestine motion, Hebron’s Old Town was put on the agency’s World Heritage list and on the list of heritage in danger. She would not comment on whether Hebron had been recognized as Palestinian, saying the exact wording would be decided later.
The secret vote of 12-3 with six abstentions drew angry reaction from Israel, whose ambassador to UNESCO left the session held in Krakow, Poland.
Rula Maayah, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, said in a statement it was a “historical development because it stressed that Hebron” and its historic mosque “historically belong to the Palestinian people.”
“UNESCO on Friday decided to recognize Hebron’s Old City and a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims as endangered Palestinian heritage sites,” an Israeli diplomatic official said. The official spoke anonymously in line with protocol.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “another delusional decision by UNESCO.”
It was the latest chapter in Israel’s rocky relations with UNESCO, which it accuses of making decisions out of political considerations.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, said in a statement that “Jewish ties to Hebron are stronger than the disgraceful UNESCO vote.”
Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, also heads Israel’s national UNESCO Committee.
The decision draws attention to the situation in Hebron and obliges the World Heritage committee to review its situation every year. By the same decision, Hebron’s Old Town was also put on UNESCO World Heritage list.