When organizers of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival select the films they will screen, timeliness is probably among the considerations. They could hardly have known they would hit the nail on the head so perfectly with One Rock Three Religions. The film explores the contending claims for the world’s most in-demand religious real estate: that which Jews call the Temple Mount.
The site of the First and Second Temples, the latter destroyed by the Romans after 70 CE, is also the location of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, holy sites for Muslims. The Western Wall, adjacent to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site on earth for the Jewish people. The Temple Mount also holds significance for Christians. This is not breaking news.
But the 58-member executive board of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, earlier this month passed a resolution – with 24 countries in favor, 32 against or abstaining and two absent – that uses language that exclusively recognizes the Muslim history of the area, implicitly erasing Jewish and Christian claims to the space. (Canada is not part of the board.)
Denying Jewish claims to the Temple Mount is not breaking news, either. This form of historical erasure has been going on for decades.
In the film, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles and a rabbi emeritus of Vancouver’s Schara Tzedeck, notes that the supreme Muslim authority in Jerusalem published for decades a visitor’s guide to the site. From 1924 until 1953, the guidebook made clear that the location was indisputably the site of Jewish temples. The 1954 iteration of the guide omitted the Jewish connection to the holy place for the first time. Some Arab and Palestinian figures, including Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, have made it their business to deny the historical and archeological truth ever since. The denial of a Jewish connection to Jerusalem has come to coexist with the denial of Jews to a right to self-determination in our unceded ancestral territory, as part of a global phenomenon of denying Jewish history.
It may be naïve to get on our high horses and pretend that UNESCO’s appalling denial of Jewish (and Christian) connections to the Temple Mount is some new low in global attitudes toward Israel. This is nonsense, certainly, but only on a continuum of nonsense that defines the anti-Israel movement globally.
We can take some solace in the fact that the vote was not passed by a majority. As well, on the positive side, this “theatre of the absurd,” as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it, at least forced the hands of a few leaders, including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who promised to find out why his country’s representative abstained from the vote. Even UNESCO’s own director-general, Irina Bokova, said: “Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.… To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
In the end, it all amounts to bubkes for Israel. Israel will continue to provide, as the VJFF film demonstrated, access to all religious sites for all peoples, to say nothing of continuing to be the educational, scientific and cultural exemplar it is. If only UNESCO contributed as much.