Palestinians protest violence against women at the spot where a woman was allegedly murdered by her husband in the West Bank city of Bethlehem earlier that week, 1 August.(Issam Rimawi / APA images)
The reactions of the UN, US, Israel and churches aren’t especially surprising and regardless of what was said, its doubtful that they actually worked that out with church officials. If anything the churches bickering is a notorious reason behind stalling repairs. I understand the point given behind inducting these sites, but I don’t know how much fodder this will give them in establishing any arguments for sovereignty further down the line. Anyway:
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The Palestinians on Friday persuaded the U.N. cultural agency to list the Church of the Nativity — the place where Christians believe Jesus was born — as an endangered World Heritage site despite misgivings by churches in charge of the basilica.
The Palestinians had argued that the shrine faces imminent danger, both because of overdue repairs and Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank.
Israel and the U.S. strongly opposed the emergency bid, arguing that the church is not under threat, a position backed by a U.N. experts committee.
Israeli officials have said they don’t object to the church being listed, but reject the “endangered” label which implies culpability of Israel, which in practice remains the ultimate sovereign in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians are “engaging in unilateral actions that only distance peace” and that UNESCO is driven by political considerations.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the Palestinians now plan to submit more sites in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The new bids could stir more political tensions, particularly in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed to its capital after the 1967 war.
Ashrawi said Friday’s vote is the beginning of a process.
“Our identity, our place in civilization, in history, are being recognized, are beginning to be safeguarded in the face of the Israeli occupation’s encroachment, the confiscation of our land, our culture,” she said.
The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said Washington was “profoundly disappointed” by the vote. The U.S. has been trying to block the Palestinian recognition campaign, and withdrew tens of millions of dollars in funding from UNESCO after the Paris-based agency accepted the Palestinians as a state member last year.
Joining UNESCO was part of a wider Palestinian attempt to win global recognition for a state of Palestine in the territories Israel occupied in 1967.
Today, Bethlehem is ringed on three sides by walls of cement slabs and fences of Israel’s separation barrier — to Israel a defense against Palestinians militants, and to Palestinians a blatant land grab disguised as a security measure.
A U.N. experts committee recommended that the Palestinians go through the normal procedure, instead of seeking the “endangered” label, but the Palestinians refused to withdraw the bid.
The churches in charge of the shrine — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian — also expressed concern, apparently fearing a World Heritage designation would lead to interference by the Palestinian government and the U.N.
The church is run according to a 19th century codex, known as the Status Quo which assigns responsibilities for upkeep that are jealously guarded by each denomination.
Palestinian officials say they’ve addressed the concerns by the churches.
In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, next to the shrine, reaction was relatively muted Friday.
A celebration organized by local officials only brought several dozen people to the square, including youngsters in yellow T-shirts with the inscription “I love Jesus.”
Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah said she hopes the new heritage listing will bring more visitors. Currently, some 100,000 tourists come to Bethlehem every month.
Shop and hotel owners routinely complain they lose business because Israeli-run tour buses stop in Bethlehem just long enough for a visit to the church and then take pilgrims back to Jerusalem, a few kilometers (miles) to the north. During a recent visit, most shops on Star Street, part of the pilgrimage route, were closed.
Nabil Ziacaman, a souvenir shop owner, said Friday’s vote is a step toward recognizing a state of Palestine, but won’t help his business. “Everyone in the world knows the Church of the Nativity and where it is located,” he said. The new label “won’t bring more tourism.”
Children walking in front of a mural painted on the West Bank separation fence in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, May 14, 2012. Photo by Reuters
DSC00552 on Flickr.
Strategically located just three short blocks from the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint. Well done.
Land Day demonstration in Bethlehem, March 30th, 2012
This was at the part of the checkpoint where vehicles and trucks travel through.
In Bethlehem, Palestinian teenagers paste posters of themselves holding painted flags representing countries that support Palestinian statehood onto Israel’s separation barrier.
DSC00471 on Flickr.
Four Bethlehem Christian women, 1911.