When the 36th yearly session of the World Heritage Committee — consisting of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention meets from June 24 to July 6, 2012, the holy city of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, may become the first World Heritage Site in the Palestinian territories.
Meanwhile, there appeared to be a U.S. and Isreal conspiracy to stop the Palestine’s bid as the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which evaluates sites for UNESCO, last week delivered a negative report that said the Palestinians had not carried out a full survey of threats to the site.
|Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in Palestine.|
Ambassador Elias Sanbar argued that the report on the Church of the Nativity was “biased” and “politicized” and was influenced by the United States and Israel, which sought to block the Palestinians from joining UNESCO last October.
Sanbar rejected that report, saying that “those who lost the battle in the vote on Palestine’s admission to UNESCO want to prevent us from exercising our rights”.
According to UNESCO, the Convention will consider 36 possible, during the meting in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The list currently includes more than 900 properties deemed by the committee as having "outstanding universal value" as part of the world's natural and cultural heritage.
Palestine, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011, will be presenting the church and the surrounding route used for religious pilgrimages as its first site for inscription on the World Heritage List.
The Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO in October, when its general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.
The result angered the U.S., Israel’s staunch ally, which says the Palestinians must reach a peace agreement with the Jewish state before they can become full members of an international organization.
Israel and the U.S. subsequently cut funding to UNESCO, depriving the organization of 22 percent of its revenues.
The Church of the Nativity is the most visited tourist site in the Palestinian territories, welcoming 1.5 million visitors in 2010.
Located in the holy city of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, a Byzantine basilica, is built on top of the cave where, according to a tradition first documented in the second century, Jesus was born, UNESCO notes. Helena, mother of Christian Emperor Constantine, is said to have intended the basilica to commemorate Jesus' birth.
The church was one of three imperial churches built in Palestine under the Christian emperor. In A.D. 529, the church was destroyed and built on a much bigger scale, essentially the church that stands today.
The part of the church with the greatest religious and historical significance is arguably the Grotto of the Nativity, according to a description of the church written by Qustandi Shomali, a professor at Bethlehem University.
"The universal outstanding value of Bethlehem is unquestionable," UNESCO officials write. "It has been, and continues to be, a focus of Christian belief and worship throughout the centuries. Bethlehem, as well as Jerusalem, became the heart of the Christian world."
The UNESCO website goes on to note the most widely celebrated religious celebration is based on the birth of Jesus.
"There is no other site in the world that bears such an exceptional outstanding religious value for more than 2 billion Christians," UNESCO writes. "There is only one site in the world that has the honor of being the birthplace of Jesus."