Joey Bendah

If only the Romans could see UNESCO today…

If Vespasianus Augustus Titus, the Imperial Roman commander who destroyed the Second Jewish Temple and burned Jerusalem, were alive today to see recurring United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) resolutions ignoring the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, he would be very proud to see the product of his handiwork.

According to Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE to put an end to the Great Jewish Revolt, “there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited.” Titus wanted to erase the very connection of the Jewish people to the city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel.

In 82 CE, Titus commemorated Jerusalem’s destruction by erecting a victory arch in Rome, still in existence, that depicts the pillaging of the Second Temple’s treasures. Scholars concluded that the Colosseum, completed by Titus in 80 CE, was financed by the booty stolen from the Temple. Some 100,000 Jewish slaves were forced to work on its construction.

Sixty-five years later, in 135CE, the Romans crushed another Judean rebellion led by Bar Kokhva, putting hundreds of thousands of Jews to the sword. To further punish the Jews, Emperor Hadrian renamed Judea to “Syria-Palaestina”. He turned Jerusalem into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and built a temple to Jupiter on the Jewish Temple Mount. The goal was to rid every historic connection of the Jewish people to their homeland. ​​

Though the Romans made a good attempt at erasing the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, they were not the last imperial power to come to occupy the land of Israel. After them came the Byzantine Empire, and in the 7th century, Arabian Muslim armies captured the Roman-named province of “Palestina”. Upon the ruins of the Jewish Temple Mount, the new conquerors built the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and gave the site a new name: Al-Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

Other conquerors came and went. The Crusaders from Europe seized the Holy Land and held onto to it for two centuries.  Muslim armies of the Ayyubid empire retook the land. Other Muslim empires followed: the Mamluks and Ottomans.

Still, Jews stubbornly remained as a minority in their homeland and those in the diaspora never forgot. They persistently faced toward Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, praying to return and vowing “next year in Jerusalem” during holidays. Archaeologists are correct that the Bible cannot be used as the sole evidentiary source for the Jewish connection to Israel; archaeological extra-biblical proof is required.

In 1993, the first ever mention of King David outside the pages of the Bible, was found in northern Israel. The Tel Dan Stele, dated to the mid-eighth century BCE, is an inscription commemorating the victory of an Aramean king over his two southern neighbors: the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David.” The stele proves the the Bible’s account of the fragmented Israelite Kingdom and the Judean Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

Last year, the royal stamp of Judean King Hezekiah (715-686 BCE), mentioned in the Bible, was found in an excavation close to Jerusalem’s Old City. The stamp, just over a centimeter in diameter, contains the Hebrew inscription, “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.” The same King Hezekiah mentioned in the pages of the Bible that ruled the Kingdom of Judah from from its capital in Jerusalem.

These are just two artifacts of the thousands more proving the Jewish people’s three-thousand-year connection and presence in their indigenous ancestral homeland.

And now, just a week after the executive board of UNESCO ratified a controversial resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, the body’s World Heritage Committee passed an additional resolution with similar text. Both resolutions referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall only by their Muslim names, Al-Haram Al-Sharif and Al-Buraq Wall, respectively.  The first resolution condemned Israel as an “occupying power” for actions allegedly taken in both places, and the second also doesn’t acknowledge the importance of Jerusalem to both Judaism and Christianity. Similarly to last week’s contentious resolution, the latest was carried with a large majority.

In her letter to Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet, UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova acknowledged the anti-Semitic nature of the resolutions that are attempting to falsify history, “allow me to reassure you of my absolute commitment to continue all efforts in countering all forms of anti-Semitism, including those drawing on partial or distorted visions of culture and history, as well as those that seek to challenge the existence of Israel.”

UNESCO is now following in the footsteps of the Roman Empire, which tried to erase the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, as did many other empires that arrived thereafter. No matter how many resolutions are submitted and passed in UNESCO, the Jewish people will remain an unabated people. Just as Titus and the colonialists after him failed to erase the indigenous Jewish connection to Jerusalem, UNESCO, too, will fail.


Sign the StandWithUs petition to call upon the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize the deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and holy sites in the land of Israel.


About the Author
Joey is a writer, social activist, and new immigrant to Israel. He works as a program manager for an international Israel education organization, where he trains students from around the world in Israel activism. Before immigrating to Israel, Joey received a BA in Middle Eastern studies and political science at the University of Arizona. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF with the Paratrooper Brigade.
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