Bethlehem celebrates Church of the Nativity recognition by UNESCO

Palestinians celebrate UNESCO win
(updated) 29/06/2012 23:52

“BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestinian officials applauded the UN cultural agency Friday after UNESCO voted to accept a revered Christian holy place onto its list of world heritage sites.

Church of the Nativity 

At a news conference outside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, officials thanked UNESCO for recognizing Palestine’s heritage as fireworks lit up the sky.

“We are all very happy,” said Issam Juha, the director for restoration at the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation and one of the authors of the Palestinian application to UNESCO.

“We almost lost hope,” he said, referring to the particularly close vote in St Petersburg. “But today was a great day … As Palestinians we deserve our heritage like any other people in the world.”

Church of the Nativity Basilica

The official rejected accusations by Israel and the United States that the submission of the Church of the Nativity and nearby Pilgrimage Route was motivated by political interests.

“This isn’t political. It was a technical decision based on merit,” he told Ma’an, speaking outside the church. “This place is holy to all humanity, especially the two billion Christians around the world.”

Israel has questioned the need for Bethlehem to be registered as an endangered site and sees Palestinian moves at UNESCO and other UN bodies as efforts to embarrass Israel on the world stage.

                                                 Church of the Nativity in relation to Israel’s separation/annexation wall (blue) and the illegal settlement of Har Homa (Map: Americans for Peace Now)

“This is proof that UNESCO is motivated by political and not cultural considerations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement following the decision. “Instead of taking steps to promote peace, the Palestinians are acting unilaterally, which makes peace more distant.”

The US ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said he was “profoundly disappointed by the decision”.

George Saade, the deputy mayor of Bethlehem, called the vote a landmark achievement and congratulated President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, on the successful outcome.

Abbas’ Palestinian government plans to register about 20 more sites with UNESCO, including the ancient city of Jericho and the archaeological site of Sebastia, and has dismissed Israel’s accusations.

“Our goal is to preserve and safeguard these sites in spite of the threat from Israeli occupation,” said Hanan Ashrawi, head of the PLO’s Department of Culture and Information.

Last year, UNESCO granted Palestine full membership, a decision seen at the time as a boost to their bid, since largely stalled, to win UN recognition of statehood in the absence of peace talks with Israel.

Israel and the United States, which later cut off its $80 million annual funding of UNESCO, condemned the decision, saying negotiations — which collapsed in 2010 — were the only path to statehood.

Reuters contributed to this report.”


Bethlehem youth with shirts saying “I love Jesus” following a news conference outside the Church of the Nativity on June 29, 2012. (Maan News, 30 June 2012)



‘In photos: Joy in Bethlehem after UNESCO vote’, Mann News 30 June 2012 

Other reports on this story

UNESCO Press, ‘Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route in Bethlehem, Palestine, inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List along with sites from Israel, Palau, Indonesia and Morocco’, 29 June 2012

“Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as it is suffering from damages due to water leaks. The inscribed property is situated 10km south of Jerusalem on the site identified by Christian tradition as the birthplace of Jesus since the 2nd century. A church was first completed there in 339 A.D. and the edifice that replaced it after a fire in the 6th century retains elaborate floor mosaics from the original edifice. The site also includes Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian convents and churches, as well as bell towers, terraced gardens and a pilgrimage route.”

UNESCO Working Papers

United Nations Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organization Convention Concerning The Protection Of The World Cultural And Natural Heritage, World Heritage Committee, Thirty-sixth session, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation 24 June– 6 July 2012 Item 8 of the Provisional Agenda: Establishment of the World Heritage List and of the List of World Heritage in Danger, 8B. Nominations to the World Heritage List
WHC-12/36.COM/8B, Paris, 11 May 2012

Draft Decision: 36 COM 8B.5 [See Addendum: WHC-12/36.COM/8B.Add]


Related events to Palestine – May/June

John Denham MP writes about his visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Updated:19 May 2012

Last week I joined a delegation of Labour MPs to the Occupied Territories. We met key Palestinian leaders, including Prime Minister Fayed, Saed Arakat the chief negotiator with the Israeli Government , the head of external affairs of Fatah and the Governor of Hebron. We also met the chief spokesman for the Israeli PM, Mark Regev, and officials from the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Away from the political meetings we were able to see at first hand the impact of the increasingly intense illegal occupation of the West Bank. We saw the Military Courts at which children are tried, usually for minor acts of rebellion against the spread of settlements. The military occupation acts without any of the protections for minors – proper and early legal representation, the right to be supported by a suitable adult; the use of extreme measures of restraint – and the courts seemed to operate with scant regard to proper use of evidence. (Should children from an illegal settlement be charged with an offence they are tried under the entirely separate system of Israeli justice) In Beit Jala we met a family whose sons have faced repeated detention and saw at firsthand how an illegal occupation had denied them access to the village lands. We heard how they could only work their remaining fields without fear of attacks by settlers if they were accompanied by international rights campaigners. In Hebron, thousands of Israeli troops are protecting a few hundred settlers who are taking over Palestinian homes in the old city and wrecking its economy.
Children in Military Custody: A report written by a delegation of British lawyers on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law, June 2012
Full report

As discussed in this report, there have been some moves towards addressing concerns 118. about the treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military justice system, in particular the decision in Farahat & ors v IPS in 1997, the establishment of the Youth Court in 2009, the change in the law prohibiting the use of single plastic hand ties in 2010 and the passing of Military Order 1676 in 2011. There are, however, limitations to these reforms and evidence that, in spite of legal reform, practices are not changing. There is, in our view, considerably more work necessary to improve the system and address the current disparity between the treatment of Palestinian children under military law and the treatment of Israeli children under civilian law.

119. Core Recommendations: International law, international humanitarian law and the UN Convention on the Rights 1. of the Child apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and therefore should be fully and effectively implemented. The international legal principle of the best interests of the child should be the 2. primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by the military, police, public or private welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies. Israel should not discriminate between those children over whom it exercises penal 3. jurisdiction. Military law and public administration should deal with Palestinian children on an equal footing with Israeli children.


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