Against the agitation of the U.S. and Israel, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage committee yesterday, Friday, June 29, in Paris, approved a Palestinian bid to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its list of sites of World Heritage in Danger.
It was an overwhelming vote as the 21-member committee met in St. Petersburg, Russia and voted 13-6 – with two abstentions – to include the church and pilgrimage route, located in the Palestinian land occupied territory controlled by Israeli in West Bank, on UNESCO'S list of World Heritage Sites.
Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi hailed the decision of the world body and argued that the vote was an affirmation of Palestinian sovereignty over the site that marks the place where Jesus was born.
|Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem in the occupied territory, West Bank, Palestine.|
Expectedly, Israel was angry with the UNESCO vote as Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ilana Stein said the decision “has turned UNESCO into a theater of the absurd.” She added that “this is a sad day for the World Heritage Committee.”
The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said the United States is “profoundly disappointed.”
For Palestine, the proposal of an emergency candidacy for the iconic Christian site shortcuts the usually 18-month-long process to apply for World Heritage recognition.
The Palestinian bid had requested for recognition of urgency and “outstanding universal value.”
Indicting Israel in the application, Palestine noted that lack of regular restoration of the church was due to 1967 invasion by Israel, occupying the territories. The bid also cited difficulties procuring equipment because of lack of free movement imposed by Israeli forces.
UNESCO admitted Palestine as a full member in October last year.
With this development, the Palestinians are stressing their intention of making the most of their position, after a failure to join the main U.N. body.
Ashrawi stated: “The message to Israel today is that unilateral actions will not work and that Israel cannot continue challenging the world despite its powerful allies.”
Stein, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, criticized those who voted in favor of the Nativity candidacy, saying that “they have given themselves up as pawns in the service of the Palestinians at the expense of UNESCO’s professionalism and good name.”
Killion warned that UNESCO “should not be politicized. The site clearly has tremendous religious and historical significance,” Killion’s statement said, adding “however, the emergency procedure used in this instance is reserved only for extreme cases.”