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U.N. Anti-Racism Panel Questions Israel February 21, 2007

Posted by C.A.R.D in Arab, Arabs, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, holy places, Islam, Islamic, Israel, Israeli, Jew, Jewish, Jews, Muslim, Muslims, Noble Sanctuary, non-Jewish, Racism, Racist, Temple Mount, U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discriminat, UN, United Nations.

A United Nations anti-racism hearing later this week could add more fuel to the debate over a hotly contested Israeli construction project that has sparked anger throughout the Muslim world. Israel’s government has also been asked to explain if it discriminates between Jewish citizens and what it calls its “Arab sector” in how it provides housing, education, public services, land rights and legal protection against acts of violence, according to a list of issues released by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The panel of 18 independent experts overseeing compliance with the United Nations’ 38-year-old anti-racism treaty has submitted questions in writing on Israel’s policy for preserving holy sites and asked the government to explain why it only grants special protection for places considered sacred by Jews.

“To date, approximately 120 places have been declared as holy sites, all of which are Jewish,” the committee said in its list of questions, written before the recent furor over a construction project in Jerusalem that some Muslims have charged could damage Islam’s holy places.

Israel – whose quadrennial review was postponed in August because of the Lebanon war – is to appear before the panel on Thursday and Friday to answer the questions, which include whether it “has set forth regulations in relation to holy sites of both the Jewish and non-Jewish population.”

Two weeks ago, Israeli archaeologists began a salvage dig ahead of the construction of a new pedestrian walkway up to Jerusalem’s disputed hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The site is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Sunday, the dig sparked renewed Muslim condemnation after an Israeli archaeologist said the site might contain a Muslim prayer room.

“Most holy places are also considered as antiquities sites,” Israel said in 2005 submission to the panel, arguing that Muslim sites are still protected under its law.

The Jewish state referred in the 124-page report to a pending High Court decision over whether the government was required to offer Muslim holy places the same status as Jewish religious sites. Nevertheless, it said several existing statues protect holy places by requiring excavation, drainage, sewage and demolition projects to first seek special government permission if they are nearby religious sites – Jewish or non-Jewish.

Tourism Ministry spokesman Yaron Frost said Israel has not given the special designation to any sites – even Jewish ones – for nearly four decades. He said non-Jewish sites had “total autonomy.”

“Israel doesn’t interfere by making declarations about the regulation of holy sites that are not Jewish, out of a sensitivity for the religions involved and a concern that declaring a site holy would be seen as interference in the oversight,” he said.

The archaeological dig is taking place about 60 meters (yards) away from the Al Aqsa mosque and gold-capped Dome of the Rock – an area considered the third-holiest in Islam.

It is also Judaism’s holiest site, having housed the biblical Jewish temples. Jews have gathered for centuries to pray outside the compound at the Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient compound.

Since early this month, the Israeli work has sparked protests by Palestinians and generated criticism throughout the Muslim world. There has been no serious violence so far, but the site has been the focus of deadly fighting in the past, and disagreements over its status have been a central obstacle in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Muslim leaders and critics of the construction work said Sunday’s announcement of the find, three years after it was discovered, confirmed their fears about Israel’s intentions.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, which is running the dig, said Sunday that the room might not be a prayer room at all, and that archaeologists would know only after research was complete. If it was found to be a prayer room, a spokeswoman said, it would be carefully documented and left in place.

CARD {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: cjp.org

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