This week the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization—UNESCO—voted yet again to validate Palestinians claims that deny Jewish ties to the holiest places in Judaism. But an unexpected announcement that some of Israel’s critics consider suspiciously fortuitous made clear the ignorant and vicious nature of the Palestinian campaign. On the day of the latest UNESCO vote, the Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled the discovery of an ancient papyrus fragment that has been scientifically dated to the 7th century B.C.E. that mentions Jerusalem in Hebrew. The artifact, which predates the birth of Islam by 1,400 years, is the most effective response imaginable to a UNESCO stand that treats the Temple Mount and the Western Wall as exclusively Muslim shrines.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made a point of triumphantly mentioning the archeological find this week in his denunciation of the UNESCO vote. But while the timing of the two events ought to be particularly embarrassing for the Palestinians and their European and Third World enablers, it’s not likely that this will cause any of those nations that have stuck to their absurd position to change their votes.
After all, does anyone at the United Nations really doubt that Jerusalem was the capital of a Jewish nation many centuries before the Muslim conquest of the country? Or that Hebrew was the language of the ancient Jewish kingdoms? Do even many Palestinians think the site of the Temple Mount mosques isn’t where the Jews built both of their ancient shrines or that the Western Wall is not the last remnant of that structure? Not likely.
Nor is the point of the Palestinian push at the UN an effort to protect the status quo on the Temple Mount whereby the ancient site is administered solely by a Muslim religious authority (which has carried out construction projects that trashed ancient artifacts), and Jews are forbidden to pray there. Accusations by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas that the Israelis intend to harm the mosques is a brazen lie intended to stir up hatred and violence against Jews. The point of this agitation is that denial of Jewish history is required to justify a Palestinian political culture that continues to see the war on Zionism as intrinsic to their national identity.
So in that sense, the papyrus changes nothing. Palestinians aren’t convinced by the evidence in front of their eyes in the form of ancient structures like the Wall and the network of ruins that surround the Temple Mount on the site of the ancient Jewish capital. Why should anyone think that a flimsy piece of ancient paper would change their minds or those of their foreign supporters? The anti-Semitic nature of the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state—no matter where its borders might be drawn—is insensible to rational arguments about historical rights, as well as those that point toward a two-state solution compromise.
But the papyrus—which was challenged by some dissidents in the inherently political minefield of archeology—will still speak louder than anything that comes out of a UN agency that has been hijacked by anti-Semites. The archeological evidence about Jerusalem is still important because the Palestinian claim that the modern state of Israel has no rights in the Old City is rooted in a notion that history began in 1967. In order to accept the idea that Israelis are foreign colonists or occupiers in the heart of their ancient homeland, you have to buy into the notion that Jerusalem didn’t exist as a Hebrew-speaking city before its destruction by the Romans and that the decision of various conquerors to place their religious shrines on the site of the temples was just a coincidence, rather than an effort to wipe out Jewish history. Zionism isn’t colonialism or racism; it’s a national liberation movement that successfully righted an ancient injustice.
That may not matter to those immersed in an ideology that believes waging economic war on the sole Jewish state on the planet or rationalizing Palestinian terrorism is somehow an expression of support for “human rights.” But the papyrus, like the many other proofs of Jewish history, stands as a rebuke to those who are, whether they understand it or not, seeking to go back to the pre-June 1967 status quo whereby Jews were banned from the Old City or praying at the Western Wall. It is also a reminder to Israelis and their friends that, although the Middle East conflict remains a complex and often-perplexing puzzle, the cause of Israel is fundamentally just. Justice may be an alien concept in the upside down moral universe of the United Nations. But it is not something that can be erased by a UNESCO vote.