Gaza's coastline (Photo: Getty Images)
Hamas' military wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam last month bulldozed part of a site designated of historic value by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in order to make room for the group's terrorist training, according to Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse.
Less than two years ago, UNESCO voted in Palestine as a member in order to help the Palestinians preserve heritage sites under their control.
The destruction of a portion of the ancient Anthedon Harbor along the Mediterranean coast of Gaza has prompted the group UN Watch to send a blistering letter to the head of UNESCO slamming the world body for ignoring Hamas' actions. Al-Monitor reports:
The Anthedon seaport, which dates back over 3,000 years to the Mycenaean era, is considered one of the most important sites in the Middle East and is the oldest harbor in Gaza. It was designated an international heritage site by UNESCO in 2012. The location was discovered in 1997 on the space of 180,000 square meters. It contains mosaic floors with historical pillars from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic ages.
The Ministry of Tourism in Gaza - also run by Hamas - is denying the site was damaged and insists the land will be repurposed for military purposes only "temporarily."
Deputy Tourism Minister Muhammad Khela tells Al-Monitor, "We can't stand as an obstacle in the way of Palestinian resistance; we are all a part of a resistance project, yet we promise that the location will be limitedly used without harming it at all."
The term "resistance" is commonly used by Palestinians to refer to violent acts committed against Israelis, including rocket launchings, bombings and stone-throwing.
Khela tried to justify the decision by blaming the UN for not providing the Hamas government with the proper funding to excavate the site.
"If the location was excavated already, I don't think it would have been possible for anyone to take it over," Khela said, adding, "it should be UNESCO and other donating groups' job to do so."
The non-profit UN Watch which monitors mismanagement at the world body and the unequal treatment of member states blasted UNESCO for its silence in the face of the site's disfigurement, particularly because UNESCO voted Palestine as a member in 2011 allegedly to "help protect world heritage sites in Palestinian areas."
UN Watch is demanding UNESCO step in to stop any further bulldozing of the Gaza site:
The partial destruction of the ancient Anthedon Harbor--which includes the ruins of a Roman temple and archaeological remains from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras--comes exactly one year after the area was nominated by new UNESCO member state Palestine as a World Heritage site.
UN Watch also pointed to UNESCO's long-held tradition of singling out Israel for criticism, which is continuing even at the group's biannual meeting this month.
In a strongly-worded letter to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer writes:
We note the tragic irony that this destruction by the rulers of Gaza comes exactly one year after the area was nominated by new UNESCO member state Palestine as a World Heritage site. [...]
That the UNESCO executive has so far failed to place the Hamas destruction and cynical abuse of this site on its agenda underscores the tragic politicization and diversion of the agency's mission to protect world culture and heritage.
According the current UNESCO session timetable, there are in fact four agenda items dedicated exclusively to Palestinian issues: Items 9, 10, 34, and 35, while Item 5 includes a fifth report on this issue. Israel is the only country in the world that is targeted for specific criticism in this session.
Previous UNESCO resolutions on these five items were rightly described by US Ambassador David Killion as "highly politicized" and designed to "single out Israel." The extreme politicization even prompted Russia to successfully oppose discussion of these items, despite vehement Palestinian opposition, at the previous 190th session in October.
UNESCO's admission of Palestine as a member state in 2011, which caused the organization to lose almost a quarter of its budget when the US suspended its contributions, was justified as a measure to help protect world heritage sites in Palestinian areas. Yet as Hamas turns a cultural heritage site into a terrorist training ground--the antithesis of culture--the silence of UNESCO now places the very credibility of the organization at stake.
This isn't the first example of Palestinian destruction of an historically significant site. An Israeli archaeologist reported in December that the Waqf - the Muslim religious authority governing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - continues to destroy Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount. This is in violation a ruling by Israel's High Court of Justice.
In 1999, the Wakf employed bulldozers to remove 10,000 tons of dirt from the area known as King Solomon's Stables saying it needed to make room for an emergency exit for the Marwani Mosque.
The Jerusalem Post reported: "Archeologists were stunned at the wanton disregard for preserving the material. Garbage trucks dumped the debris in a big heap in one end of the nearby Kidron Valley."
After Palestine was voted in as a UNESCO member, the U.S. pulled its funding for the group, about one fifth of its operating budget. According to UN Watch, the Obama Administration is now trying to convince Congress to waive legislative restrictions and approve $77.7 million in funds for UNESCO.