UNESCO places Nativity Church on endangered site

Jun 29, 2012, 4:54 PM

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) – UNESCO’s World Heritage committee on Friday approved a Palestinian bid to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its list of sites of World Heritage in Danger _ a move seen by some nations as dangerously mixing politics and culture.

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said the vote was an affirmation of Palestinian sovereignty over the site that marks the place where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Israel angrily denounced the vote, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ilana Stein saying the decision “has turned UNESCO into a theater of the absurd.”

“This is a sad day for the World Heritage Committee,” she said.

The 21-member committee, meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, voted 13-6 to include the church and pilgrimage route, located in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, on its list of sites. There were two abstentions.

The drive to get the Nativity church quickly recognized as a World Heritage site was part of the Palestinians’ bid to win international recognition since attempts to establish a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel are frozen.

The United States was among nations opposed to the Palestinian proposal of an emergency candidacy for the iconic Christian site, shortcutting what is usually an 18-month-long process to apply for World Heritage recognition. Neither the United States nor Israel was on the committee. The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said the United States is “profoundly disappointed.”

The church _ which drew some 2 million visitors last year and parts of which are 1,500 years old _ stands above the grotto that Christians believe was the birthplace of Jesus. The Palestinian application asks for recognition as a site of “outstanding universal value” urgently in need of attention.

The application cited lack of regular restoration of the church due to the political situation since 1967 when Israel occupied the territories, and difficulties procuring equipment because of lack of free movement imposed by Israeli forces.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization voted to admit Palestine as a full member in October. The emergency candidacy for the church clearly showed the Palestinians’ intention of making the most of their position, after a failure to join the main U.N. body because Palestine is not a recognized state.

The Palestinian application to place the Church on the list showed that they plan to put forward other sites for prestigious World Heritage recognition, eventually linking various landmarks to the life of Jesus.

“The message to Israel today is that unilateral actions will not work and that Israel cannot continue challenging the world despite its powerful allies,” Ashrawi said.

Killion, the U.S. ambassador, said “this body should not be politicized.” His statement noted the candidacy was opposed by a UNESCO experts committee, whose conclusions are almost always heeded.

The three churches acting as custodians of the site had also been opposed. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches keep the site under a so-called Status Quo agreement dating to the Ottoman empire, and fear the Palestinian action will upset that delicate balance.

“The site clearly has tremendous religious and historical significance,” Killion’s statement said. “However, the emergency procedure used in this instance is reserved only for extreme cases.”

Stein, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said those who voted in favor of the Nativity candidacy “have given themselves up as pawns in the service of the Palestinians at the expense of UNESCO’s professionalism and good name.”

While the church needs restoration, including repair of a leaky roof, it was not seen by the experts committee as being in imminent threat of destruction _ the criteria usually reserved for the emergency procedure.

A site nominated by Israel depicting human evolution at Mount Carmel, the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara Caves, also was inscribed on the World Heritage list. That nomination, like all others under consideration in St. Petersburg, went through regular channels _ not the emergency route.

___

Karin Laub reported from Ramallah.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

(Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES)...
Associated Press

Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81.
1 month ago
FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first Cabinet meeting flanked by his ...
Associated Press

Rishi Sunak: UK’s ex-Treasury chief gets his shot at PM job

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Then he got another shot — and the chance to say “I told you so.” The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss […]
3 months ago
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss addresses the media in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Oct. ...
Associated Press

Truss quits, but UK’s political and economic turmoil persist

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss quit Thursday after a tumultuous and historically brief term marred by economic policies that roiled financial markets and a rebellion in her political party that obliterated her authority. After just 45 days in office, Truss became the third Conservative prime minister to be toppled in as many […]
4 months ago
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 1...
Associated Press

Russia unleashes biggest attacks in Ukraine in months

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia retaliated Monday for an attack on a critical bridge by unleashing its most widespread strikes against Ukraine in months, a lethal barrage that smashed civilian targets, knocked out power and water, shattered buildings and killed at least 14 people. Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the […]
4 months ago
This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, upper rig...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid for defense test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.
4 months ago
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
UNESCO places Nativity Church on endangered site