Of the five sites in Israel inscribed on the World Heritage List, those of Masada and the Old City of Acre may be mentioned for their symbolic value, which is both universal and spiritual.
Standing high on a rocky outcrop, Masada is a rocky fortress whose beauty towers over the Dead Sea in the heart of the Judean desert. A symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel and its brutal destruction, this fortress-palace was built in the classical style of the early Roman Empire by Herod the Great.
The Old City of Acre is a fortified port-city settled by a continuous succession of different populations from the Phoenician period on. The present city is characteristic of a fortified town dating from the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries. The remains of the Crusader town lie almost intact, giving an accurate picture of its urban layout in the Middle Ages.
Israel joined UNESCO on 16 September 1949. Twenty-five of the country’s schools belong to the Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). Israel is also committed to facilitating access to higher education for students from developing countries. More than 20 UNESCO fellowships are funded each year through the Israeli international development agency (MASHAV) and the Council for Higher Education. Israel also takes an active part in the Organization’s intergovernmental scientific networks. In 2005 it was elected member of the World Heritage Committee.
As an encouragement to the Middle East peace efforts, UNESCO awarded the 1993 Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for Israel, and to Yasser Arafat for the Palestine Liberation Organization. The award was made in recognition of the important step forward in the peace process represented by the Oslo Accords. On receiving the Prize Yitzhak Rabin pronounced the following words, still famous today: “We are in a hurry, ladies and gentlemen – and therefore we are proceeding slowly ... for our children and their children, we are moving towards peace. We are proceeding slowly, and we shall hurry to bring it to you. That is our vow to you.” It was in tribute to him that the Square of Tolerance, a gift to UNESCO from the State of Israel, was inaugurated in 1996. In the centre of the Square is a mature olive tree, planted in front of a stone wall on which the opening lines of the preamble to UNESCO’s Constitution are engraved in ten languages. To this day, UNESCO continues to encourage those who seek peace in the Middle East through dialogue and mutual cooperation. Thus, in 2005, UNESCO helped to launch the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, an international non-governmental organization that brings together high-level Palestinian and Israeli scientists and researchers.