Wiesenthal Centre at the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

September 15, 2023

Riyadh - Over 250 sites of particular cultural or natural value, located in some 194 UNESCO member-States, have been waiting for years to receive “World Heritage Status“.
The main exceptions are sites claimed by “Palestine”, using the fast-track ploy of “sites in a state of danger” to expropriate Jewish or Christian heritage. “This is likely to be the case for Jericho,” stated Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels.

Photo left: Samuels with Kris Dierckx, General Delegate of the Flemish Region, Permanent Delegation of Belgium to UNESCO
Photo right: Samuels with Amb. Elman Abdullayev (centre), Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to UNESCO, and Mounir Bouchenaki (left), Director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (charged with finding synagogues in the MENA region)

The Israeli delegation was allowed by the Saudi host to attend at the last minute.
The Wiesenthal Centre is the only Jewish organization to annually attend the World Heritage Committees (WHC), starting with Cairns, Australia, in 2000, where we exposed the scandal of a discotheque to be opened on the site of Auschwitz. The matter was resolved immediately by the Polish Ambassador to UNESCO.
In our over 20 years of activity with the WHC, the main troubles began with the 2011 entry of “Palestine” and its hunger for Jewish and Christian Heritage... This 45th WHC Session was supposed to be held a year ago in Kazan, Russia, but was cancelled due to the host’s war on Ukraine.
This year we addressed the following issues involving Jewish heritage:
- Tunisia: presented the site of Djerba for nomination, without mentioning its long Jewish history and the importance of the El-Ghriba synagogue, that still remains an important pilgrimage site for Jews today. We await an answer from Tunisian competent authorities.
- Belgium: three years ago, at the WHC, Belgium and France were requesting world heritage status for World War I cemeteries. Our historian found that several of these sites contained also World War II graves, including Nazi war criminal burials. At the time, the French requested our Centre to check their list and indicate those cemeteries that were unacceptable. In the case of Belgium, however, we had the opportunity now in Riyadh to clarify the issue of sites bearing Flemish Nazis.
- Azerbaijan: the Ambassador was touched by our suggestion to list the 2,500 year-old Jewish village of Qırmızı Qəsəbə (a.k.a. Krasnaya Sloboda or the Red Village), where highland Jews had found refuge and lived for centuries. This is one of the last places where Judeo-Tat - a language on UNESCO's "definitively endangered list" - is still spoken.
- Argentina: we spoke with the delegation regarding the issue of Moisés Ville, on the Tentative List since 2015, and is the best preserved and most exceptional testimony of Jewish emigration to the Americas at the end of the 19th century. To be followed-up by our Buenos Aires office.
- Dominican Republic: the only State, among the 33 present at the 1939 League of Nations conference in Evian, willing to take Jewish fugitives from Nazi Germany. Some 5,000 refugees reached the Dominican Republic, of which some 4,000 left at the end of WW2. Those that remained founded the town of Sosúa in the northern Puerto Plata province. After the previous Ambassador’s enthusiasm, the plan to suggest the site at the WHC seems to have been suspended.
“One can only hope that this 45th WHC Session in Riyadh will present Heritage Status to sites relevant to member-States and their history... rather than the theft of Jewish sites. The test will be the vote on Jericho,” concluded Samuels.

For further information contact Dr. Shimon Samuels at csweurope@gmail.com, join the Center on Facebook, or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent directly to your Twitter feed.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

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