How Palestine’s UNESCO Membership Could Affect Middle East Heritage Sites

UNESCO, world heritage sites, nature conservation, Israel, AkkoAkko in Israel is just one important World Heritage Site in the Middle East region that could suffer from the United States’ decision to withhold funding to UNESCO following the admittance of Palestine as a member state.

Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the United States will “refrain from making contributions to UNESCO” as a result of the organization’s vote to admit Palestine as a member state. Earlier this year Palestine submitted a bid to become part of the United Nations – a bid that the United States is firmly opposed to and has threatened to veto if the U.N. Security Council approves. 107 UNESCO members voted to admit Palestine, 14 opposed, including Israel and the United States, and 52 member countries abstained from voting.

Nuland said that the UNESCO vote is “regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The United States contributes 22% of UNESCO’s budget and will withhold the pending November payment of $60 million, according to CNN. Slashing such a chunk of the organization’s funding could have far-reaching consequences for no fewer than 50 world heritage sites throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean region, including at least 6 in Israel.

After the vote, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed concern for UNESCO’s financial stability. She said, “I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that UNESCO does not suffer unduly.” And Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General said that it will be necessary to find practical solutions to the U.S. withholding.

UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information, according to their website. The preservation of World Heritage Sites, which include threatened natural sanctuaries, falls under their purview.

Without a large chunk of their budget, it remains to be seen how well the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Middle East region will fare. Meanwhile, a Facebook group has already been started to “Raise 60 Million Dollars for UNESCO – The Cost of Democracy.”

Following is a list of important sites in the Middle East that rely in part on U.S. funding, courtesy of Wikipedia. Will they  survive?

Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad M’Sila ProvinceAlgeria
GM Djemila Roman Theatre02.jpg Djémila Sétif ProvinceAlgeria
Algeri01.jpg Kasbah of Algiers Algiers ProvinceAlgeria
Ghardaia.jpg M’zab Valley Ghardaïa ProvinceAlgeria
Tassili rocks.jpg Tassili n’Ajjer Illizi Province and Tamanrasset ProvinceAlgeria
Timgad area.jpg Timgad Batna ProvinceAlgeria
Tipasa remain 2.JPG Tipaza Tipaza ProvinceAlgeria
Bahrain Fort 7.jpg Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun Northern Governorate,  Bahrain
Abu Mena Alexandria GovernorateEgypt
SFEC AEH -ThebesNecropolis-2010-FULL-Overview-039.jpg Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis Luxor GovernorateEgypt
Islamic Cairo (2005-05-385).jpg Historic Cairo Cairo GovernorateEgypt
All Gizah Pyramids.jpg Memphis and itsNecropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur Giza GovernorateEgypt ]
Panorama Abu Simbel crop.jpg Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae Aswan GovernorateEgypt
Katharinenkloster Sinai BW 2.jpg Saint Catherine Area South Sinai GovernorateEgypt
Whale skeleton 2.jpg Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) Faiyum Governorate, Egypt
Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) Salah ad Din GovernorateIraq
Hatra ruins.jpg Hatra Ninawa GovernorateIraq
Great Mosque of Samarra.jpg SamarraArchaeological City Salah ad Din GovernorateIraq
Jerusalem.jpg The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls Jerusalem
Petra Jordan BW 36.JPG Petra Ma’an GovernorateJordan
Qusayr Amra.jpg Qasr Amra Zarqa GovernorateJordan
Umm Rasas House ruins.JPG Um er-Rasas(Kastrom Mefa’a) Madaba GovernorateJordan
GabelRum01 ST 07.JPG Wadi Rum Protected Area Faiyum GovernorateJordan
Anjar - Cardo vu du nord 2.jpg Anjar Beqaa GovernorateLebanon
Baalbek-Bacchus.jpg Baalbek Beqaa GovernorateLebanon
ByblosPort.jpg Byblos Mount Lebanon GovernorateLebanon
Qadisha.jpg Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab) North Lebanon GovernorateLebanon
TyreAlMina.jpg Tyre South Lebanon GovernorateLebanon
Cyrene8.jpg Archaeological Site of Cyrene Jabal al AkhdarLibya
Leptis Magna market place April 2004.jpg Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna KhomsLibya
Theatre, Sabratha.JPG Archaeological Site of Sabratha Zawiya DistrictLibya
Ghadames - Altstadt mit Palmenhain.jpg Old Town of Ghadamès Nalut DistrictLibya
Tadrart Acacus 1.jpg Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus FezzanLibya
Chinguetti old town.jpg Ancient Ksour ofOuadaneChinguetti,Tichitt and Oualata OuadaneChinguettiTichitt,and OualataMauritania
PNBA 43.JPG Banc d’Arguin National Park Nouadhibou and AzefalMauritania
Volubilis-basilica.jpg Archaeological Site of Volubilis Meknès-TafilaletMorocco
Royal Palace, Meknes.jpg Historic City of Meknes Meknès-TafilaletMorocco
Kasbahs in Aït Benhaddou.JPG Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou Souss-Massa-DraâMorocco
Ramparts of Essaouira.JPG Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) Marrakesh-Tensift-El HaouzMorocco
Fes, Old Medina.jpg Medina of Fez FezMorocco
Koutbia.jpg Medina of Marrakesh Marrakesh-Tensift-El HaouzMorocco ]
Tetuan vista desde un tejado.JPG Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) Tangier-TetouanMorocco
El Jadida panorama.jpg Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) Doukkala-AbdaMorocco
Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman Sharqiyah andBatinah Regions, Oman
Archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn Ad Dhahirah RegionOman
Bahla6.jpg Bahla Fort Ad Dakhiliyah RegionOman
Land of Frankincense Dhofar GovernorateOman
Thamudi.jpg Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) Al Madinah ProvinceSaudi Arabia
Diriyahpic.jpg At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah Riyadh ProvinceSaudi Arabia
Sudan Meroe Pyramids 2001.JPG Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe River Nile StateSudan
Gebel Barkal.jpg Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region Northern StateSudan
Ancient Aleppo view.JPG Ancient City of Aleppo Aleppo GovernorateSyria
Bosra pano Syria.jpg Ancient City of Bosra Daraa GovernorateSyria
The Jupiter temple in Damascus.jpg Ancient City of Damascus Damascus GovernorateSyria
Church of Saint Simeon Stylites 17.jpg Ancient Villages of Northern Syria Syria
Krak des Chevaliers 14.jpg Crac des Chevaliersand Qal’at Salah El-Din Homs and LatakiaGovernorates, Syria
Palmyra 03.jpg Site of Palmyra Homs GovernorateSyria
Eljem2.jpg Amphitheatre of El Jem Mahdia GovernorateTunisia
Ruines de Carthage.jpg Archaeological Site of Carthage Tunis GovernorateTunisia
Dougga theatre.jpg Dougga / Thugga Béja GovernorateTunisia
Parcichkeul3.jpg Ichkeul National Park Bizerte GovernorateTunisia
Kairouan's Great Mosque courtyard.jpg Kairouan Kairouan Governorate,Tunisia
Sousse Grosse Moschee.JPG Medina of Sousse Sousse GovernorateTunisia
PatioDarBenAbdallah.JPG Medina of Tunis Tunis GovernorateTunisia
Kerkouane1.JPG Punic Town of Kerkuane and itsNecropolis Nabeul GovernorateTunisia
Zabid, Yemen.jpg Historic Town of Zabid Al Hudaydah GovernorateYemen
Sana.jpg Old City of Sana’a Sana GovernorateYemen
Shibam Wadi Hadhramaut Yemen.jpg Old Walled City of Shibam Hadhramaut GovernorateYemen
Socotra dragon tree.JPG Socotra Archipelago Hadhramaut GovernorateYemen

World Heritage Sites in the Middle East:

Environmental Concerns Greet Wadi Rum World Heritage Status

BBC Series Celebrates UNESCO “Heritage Heroes”

UNESCO Urges Ethiopia to Halt Gibe III Dam


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13 thoughts on “How Palestine’s UNESCO Membership Could Affect Middle East Heritage Sites”

  1. No Dimitrios, that is not the intention of this article at all. We’re just stating the facts.

  2. Dimitrios says:

    I am Greek I have nothing against the US or the Jewish people BUT we must not forget that unfortunatly the state of Israel is under Zionist control as is the US. Rothchild/Zionism to be exact and the Roths aren’t even Jewish. We all know their crazy agenda to create a much much bigger Israel like the Israel that SUPPOSEDLY existed in the times of Kind Solomon or David -I forget-. That means allot of genoside and allot of land grabbing. The Palestinians are only the begining! So this article is trying to tell us that we should really be angry at the Palestinians for not choosing to go into the night without resistance because …of what exactly? Because Israel’s bully -meaning the Federal Reserve Bank Rothchild owned US- will not give UNESCO any money anymore? REALLY? …..REALLY?

  3. KC says:

    I am an American and we are broke. We have had to tighten our belts during these hard times and cut back on paying for everything. So should the rest of the world. If the rest of the world wants to presserve these “special” places then work with those countries where the sites are located. The host countries should take care of them as sovereign nations. The world has complained for years that we Americans have meddled too much in world affairs. Well, we have spent alot of blood and treasure for the causes of others and gotten just more complaints. Its finally time. The world is yours. Good luck.

  4. UNESCO also funds water projects, research and innovation. It’s not just about saving old castles from ruin.

    1. That’s a good point Karin.

  5. @Jamshid: I agree that every country has a responsibility to protect their heritage sites, but most – especially the poorer ones – are likely to prioritize other concerns, namely finding jobs or food. I don’t want to overstate the United States’ importance in the region – but losing 22% of any budget is substantial no?

    @atm: You have a good point, although it is always tricky to get the right one with enough but not too much detail. My focus is definitely on the heritage sites though, and not on peace. I’m afraid I can’t really comment on how Palestinian membership will affect peace in the region, although I’ve seen some interesting commentary in the blogosphere.

  6. atm says:

    your title is misleading. you are talking on how the US’s reaction to this vote will affect UNESCO.
    can you please explain on how Palestinian membership in UNESCO will negativly affect peace in the region. I beleive this is nothing more than a childish move by the US, israel and canada

  7. jamshid says:

    Tafline,I find in your nice article you think USA are more important than it might be, so in your opinion we have to afraid of any act of this country? it acts in its own national interest.
    it is obvious that usa has a big role in UNESCO budget with its 6553$ annually. also it may encourage USA allay to do the same, so it may be a real threat for this un organisation.
    It is no doubt about USA roles.
    I think every country has its responsibility to save their heritage site. People of each country are the best and main sources to save their heritage. The middle east governments must rely on its people to solve the region problem, not to wait the other country such as USA to come and do their duties.

    1. The truth is that America does more than its fair share in supporting UNESCO. Time for the rest of the world to cough up the dough to protect world heritage sites.

  8. jamshid says:

    why not they survive without USA funding? They are their heritage, they must survive them by themselves, as Iran survive their 12 WHS without USA funding for more than 3 decades.Every nation can do it,and must do it.

    1. Jamshid, I’m not sure about this. The US has been giving funding to UNESCO, which has overseen Iran’s numerous World Heritage Sites. So, indirectly that money has been going to Iran. That being said, I agree that UNESCO should be able to find funding elsewhere, including from the member states who voted Palestine in.

    2. And clearly they aren’t. That’s why world heritage sites are threatened. It’s about values and responsibility to heritage sites of the world, no matter where. If Iran thought a little harder about protecting its heritage it might be in a better position today, politically and economically.

      I know that it’s easy for people of the world to dump on America, but in my eyes, Americans are big winners*. They give, and then give more.

      *I am not American!

      1. Exactly! Other countries need to step up to the plate. Hopefully this will be incentive to do so, and that the opposite won’t happen – total neglect.

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