UNESCO Director-General welcomes Israel Supreme Court decision to save historical houses in Old City of HebronParis - Twenty-two Mameluke and Ottoman houses in the Old City of Hebron, some of them dating back to the 15th century, have had a reprieve from demolition yesterday when the Israel Supreme Court ruled against a decree of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) ordering their destruction.
UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura welcomed the decision and said: “The Israel Supreme Court’s decision to save 22 Mameluke and Ottoman houses in Hebron from destruction is a very positive step towards recognizing the primordial importance of protecting the region’s diverse and universally important cultural heritage in the face of military and security concerns.”
The 22 houses concerned are situated on a road used by Jewish settlers to reach their place of worship. Reasons of security were invoked by the IDF to widen the road following the death there of 12 Israelis some two months ago. The Supreme Court has requested that the IDF submit an alternative plan whereby no properties would be destroyed. Once the new plan is introduced to the Court, the Palestinian plaintiffs will be invited to argue their case again. As the depositary of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention adopted by UNESCO's General Conference in 1972), the Organization had expressed its grave concern to the Israeli authorities last December, arguing that the destruction of the structures would contravene the terms of the World Heritage Convention signed by Israel in 1999 and that the historical importance of the properties earmarked for demolition outweighed other considerations.
Numerous representations were made to the Supreme Court of Israel, both from within and outside Israel, alerting it to the universal value of the properties slated for demolition. Throughout, UNESCO maintained close contacts with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee of the Old City, ICOMOS/Israel and other partners, who all argued that the destruction of these houses would represent a great architectural and historical loss and that the Old City of Hebron, being of the same epoch and architectural style as the Old City of Acre (Acco) in Israel, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2001, deserved equal care and recognition.