Palestine awarded first UNESCO World Heritage Site
Honor given to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
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Following its admission, Palestine filed for the urgent recognition of the church as a Heritage Site. The site obviously fills the criteria needed to be recognized; the Palestinians centered their petition on the urgency issue. They explained that the church needs restoration, including repair of a leaky roof. Until now, restoration was impossible due to the political situation. Since 1967, when Israel occupied the territories, there weredifficulties placing equipment on the site due to the lack of free movement imposed by Israel. These facts are undeniable; thus the site was easily recognized.
The size of the Palestinian victory was evident by the immediate reaction of the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, who said the United States is “profoundly disappointed by the World Heritage Committee’s decision.” The choice made by Palestine was clever. The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world; moreover, it is directly related to Jesus. The current building was constructed in 565AD by the Emperor Justinian I. The site is widely recognized as the birthplace of Jesus; in written form the first testimony of that belongs to Christian apologist Justin Martyr (circa 100-165AD) in his “Dialogue with Trypho.” Nowadays, the church is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities, who greet around two million visitors per year; few other World Heritage Sites can present such impressive credentials. Yet, the importance of the site transcends religion.
In 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield, the church was under IDF siege from April 2 to May 10. The Israel Defense Forces occupied Bethlehem and tried to capture wanted Palestinian militants. Shaldag—a special commando unit, see The Cross of Bethlehem for more details on the event—was sent out to the site, but it never arrived. The Palestinians sought by Israel fled into the Church of the Nativity and were given refuge. After 39 days an agreement was reached; the militants turned themselves in to Israel and were exiled to Europe and the Gaza Strip. Yet, the IDF behaved violently; the white marks in the image below belong to IDF bullets shot into the Catholic section of the church.
“The message to Israel today is that unilateral actions will not work and that Israel cannot continue challenging the world despite its powerful allies,” Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said. As of now—less than a day after the groundbreaking decision—Israel keeps quiet, though it is a certainty that it will retaliate violently.
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