Address by Irina Bokova,
Director-General of UNESCO
concerning the Old City of Jerusalem and Its Walls in the context of the
197th Session of the Executive Board

UNESCO, 21 October 2015

Mr. Chairperson of the Executive Board,

Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

Holy city of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jerusalem is a universal symbol of the unity of humanity.

Jerusalem is a point of reference and historical, cultural and spiritual convergence for billions of people, embodying a heritage held in common that we must protect together.

The significance of Jerusalem extends far beyond the region, because this city is a microcosm of human diversity, because the future of living together in Jerusalem matters to all women and men.

I am deeply concerned by the violence, aggression and provocations, the violations of heritage.

We are meeting at a moment when the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, is on the ground, to carry a message of peace, confirming the common need to work towards a two State solution in the region, Israel and Palestine living side by side, in peace and security.

UNESCO has a special responsibility to fulfil, and must act in accordance with its mandate.

Our role, in this House, is to refuse the instrumentalisation of culture.

Our role is to calm spirits, to work against the escalation of verbal, symbolic and physical violence.

In the face of violence, UNESCO must offer another path:

– transmitting the history of dialogue between cultures and religions, how Muslims, Jews and Christians have long lived together in Jerusalem and elsewhere,

– highlighting voices other than those of divided memories, to remind all about the grounds of spiritual convergence, the prayers in common, the trials endured together,

– underlining the voices of pilgrims, travellers and philosophers, like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Maimonides and so many others, who expressed their fascination with Jerusalem.

UNESCO is the house par excellence where we know that heritage is an open book on the dialogue of cultures, that shows how cultures fit together in ways that cannot be undone or erased, because our destinies are linked, and we must shine light on these links.

Jerusalem is also the symbol that another world is possible….

..a world of tolerance …

…a world where everyone has access to places of worship and may practice their religion, while respecting the religion of others…

…a world where people of different faiths sometimes frequent the same places, highlighting our common fundamental aspirations …

UNESCO's mandate is to defend this inclusive vision of humanity, through the protection of heritage and cultural diversity.

All our work, all our energy, must move in this direction.

There is no other way.

There is no other path than to live together in diversity.

The Executive Board has shown, on many occasions, its ability to craft a common horizon, a consensus on these extremely sensitive issues, even when it is difficult.

We must continue in this spirit — this is our responsibility. UNESCO must set an example.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Executive Board has worked in this spirit, guided by a shared vision of peace, including to send a mission to Jerusalem.

I deeply regret this has not been possible for now, but I am determined to do everything to continue in this direction

As Director-General of this Organisation, I have conducted broad consultations in a spirit of openness and dialogue, and I am determined to redouble these efforts, to continue mobilizing UNESCO and our partners around the promotion of tolerance, mutual respect and living together — because there is no other way, this is the only way forward.

In this spirit, I would engage a dialogue among the three religions, engaging all guardians of the holy sites in Jerusalem with UNESCO, and to turn to the expert community in all parties concerned, in cooperation with the Jordanian authorities, to explore ways to better protect this universal site.

I am considering also launching a new initiative for Israeli and Palestinian youth, with a view to engaging youth initiatives and civil society organisations, to fostering academic exchanges among cultural, scientific and educational institutions in the region to nurture dialogue and mutual understanding.

Our project on Networks of Mediterranean Youth is a good testing ground for this.

I raise these ideas, because they embody the conviction that has driven UNESCO for 70 years.

This is the conviction that humanity, in all its diversity, is a single community, sharing values, sharing a past, sharing a future.

This is the conviction that culture is a wellspring of belonging and identity but also a force for unity and dialogue.

It is the conviction that we must never give in to violence, we must never accept the inevitability of conflict, we must, every day, in all our actions, renew our commitment to peace.

This is the message of UNESCO's Constitution, and I wish to lay special emphasis here on young women and men.

We must not abandon them to violence and exclusion.

We must not wash our hands of their aspirations for human rights and human dignity.

On the contrary.

We must support them with skills, education, jobs, we must nurture their dreams for peace, we must do everything to engage them in building a better future for all.

This is UNESCO's mandate — to nurture knowledge and capabilities, to strengthen education for global citizenship, to build dialogue across cultures, to recognise and support young people as peacebuilders, as activists, as entrepreneurs, as change-makers.

These goals guide UNESCO's Networks of Mediterranean Youth, in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia, with the

support of the European Union — to recognise and support youth civic and media engagement.

These goals underpin the #Unite4heritage campaign I launched in Baghdad this March, to counter the propaganda of hatred — to engage young women and men in protecting humanity's shared heritage.

This is the importance of UNESCO's Education Response to the Syria Crisis, led forward in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

The same ideas guide UNESCO's 9th Youth Forum that opens next Monday, bringing to this House young people and youth initiatives from across the region, from across the world.

They come to UNESCO, because of what this House embodies — the promise of peace, the will to strengthen humanity as one.

In this spirit, allow me to end with the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, in his recent video message to the Israeli and Palestinian people:

Non-violence requires more courage and strength than violence. At this difficult time, let us say "enough is enough". Let us stop the posturing and brinkmanship. Let us stop mortgaging the future of both peoples and the region.

Thank you.