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UNESCO Condemns Israel for Depriving Arabs in Territories of Their Rights U.S. Alone in Effort to Fi

November 17, 1978
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) implicitly accused Israel yesterday of depriving the Arab population in the occupied territories of their educational and cultural rights and called on the organization’s Director General to send an investigation mission to Jerusalem. The vote for the Arab-sponsored resolution was 64-4 and 26 abstentions.

Only the United States, Australia and Canada voted with Israel against the resolution which the Israeli delegate had earlier described as ” unjust and intolerable.” When the U.S. had earlier tried to adjoum the vote to enable the 146 delegations present to “reconsider” the issue and find a compromise solution, not a single delegation seconded the U.S. amendment.

Even countries which normally support Israel, such as the nine European Common Market members, Sweden, New Zealand and Austria abstained. Two days ago they had voted against another Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Israel for allegedly continuing its archaeological diggings in Jerusalem.


Yesterday’s resolution said UNESCO is “condemning as contrary to human rights and fundamental freedoms all violations resulting from Israeli occupation, of the rights of the populations living in all the occupied Arab territories to national education and cultural life and particularly the policy of systematic cultural assimilation.”

After reiterating the 1974 resolutions which provoked at the time America’s refusal to pay its UNESCO contribution, the new resolution calls on the Director General “to send a further mission to occupied Jerusalem in order to perform the task which the previous mission was unable to carry out.”

Israel has refused to permit entry of a previous mission into Jerusalem and the investigation of the cultural and educational facilities offered to the city’s Arab population. Israel said at the time that the city was now reunited and was not part of the territories under Israeli administration. The Israeli delegation to UNESCO made it clear before the vote that such a mission will again not be allowed to enter the city and that such a resolution will only hurt relations between Israel and UNESCO’s Director General Mukhtar Amadou M’Bow.


During the day-long debate, not a single country, with the exception of the United States, came to Israel’s defense. But, the American delegation made it clear that whatever the outcome of the vote or whatever any other future action will be, the U.S. will not withdraw from UNECSO. The American delegate, Ambassador John Reinhardt, in reply to an Arab accusation of U.S. intentions to withdraw rather than accept the rule of the majority, said:

“Never, not even in the critical days of 1975-76 (when America refused to pay its financial contribution to UNESCO in protest against a 1974 anti-Israel resolution) have I ever heard a call for American withdrawal. We have not talked about withdrawal and as far as I know this subject is not even under consideration in the U.S.”


The debate’s main surprise was the bitter and detailed attack launched against Israel by the Egyptian delegation. The Egyptian representative, Ambassador Gamal el Oteiffi, first methodically detailed what he said were specific Israeli violations of human rights in the territories. Then, in reply to an American plea not to inflame the debate and thus possibly hurt the current Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, he said: ” Such negotiations cannot change the facts and the reality of the situation in the occupied territories.”

The Egyptian diplomat continued: “On the contrary, if Israel really wants peace, a lasting peace, it must take into consideration the rights of the Palestinian people. What happens here is important, for if Israel really wants peace, it will go along (and accept the UNESCO resolutions) and thus create an atmosphere likely to conduct to a global, lasting and just solution. It is Israeli obstinacy in carrying out its policies in the occupied Arab territories which fails to create a propitious atmosphere for peace.”

The Egyptian said that the resolution, which Israel had fought tooth and nail, is “calm, moderate and actually less than normally it should have been, but we wanted to preserve the chances for peace.”


In his address, the Israeli delegate, Ambassador Amiel Najar, said that Israel has done more than what is generally considered necessary on behalf of Arab education in the territories. He enumerated all the facilities established by Israel, including the creation of four Arab universities or institutes of higher learning.

He accused the UNESCO Secretariat of having distributed to the delegates a partial summary of a fact-finding mission which visited the territories last year. Najar said the UNESCO officials had omitted to release passages favorable to Israel. This accusation developed into a shouting match between the Israeli delegation and the representative of M’Bow, who did not attend the commission’s meeting.

Najar also warned the delegates that adopting the Arab-sponsored resolution would put M’Bow in “an impossible position,” indicating that Israel will not permit a new mission to enter Israel and investigate in its capital.

The vote came late last night. The resolution must still be approved by the General Conference, but as the same 146 countries are represented on both bodies, such an approval is a mere formality.

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