After granting membership to the State of Palestine last year, UNESCO has now declared the Church of the Nativity a World Heritage Site belonging not to Israel, but to Palestine.
It’s wonderful, of course, to see the Church of the Nativity named a World Heritage Site, as it deserves, for its incredible, incomparable, historical and cultural (and religious) importance. But, there are some problems with this development.
Firstly, the Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership after being repeatedly denied “normal” membership as a UN member state was an obvious political ploy to gain power and influence against Israel, and the acceptance of that bid likewise was a decidedly political move for an organization that is supposedly to be apolitical and devoted to cultural concerns of importance to all humanity. Palestine should be working with Israel to achieve a peace solution, rather than going around. All of this just continues to show the decidedly anti-Israeli leanings of the United Nations.
The very fact that the inscription of the Church of the Nativity was “a move that was celebrated by Palestinians who hailed it as a significant political and diplomatic achievement” indicates the politicized nature of the Palestinians’ bids and efforts in these matters. As the New York Times reports, and I agree,
Israel has said that it is not opposed to the church’s listing as a world heritage site, but that it objects to what it calls the Palestinians’ using Unesco as a political tool against Israel.
“This is proof that Unesco is motivated by political considerations and not cultural ones,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of taking steps to advance peace,” it added, “the Palestinians are acting unilaterally in ways that only distance it.”
The head of the PLO’s Department of Culture and Information has praised the listing as “a welcome recognition by the international community of our historical and cultural rights in this land,” again showing the political, and not altruistic or purely cultural, motives of the Palestinian administration. The idea is utter and complete nonsense, furthermore, since at the time of Jesus’ birth there were no Muslims, no organized/unified conception of “Arab” identity, and certainly no Palestinians in the modern, 20th century sense of the term.
The Palestinians’ bid blames the Israeli Occupation for damage and threats to the Church, and for the Palestinians’ inability to undertake conservation efforts. No one can deny that these are factors. For nearly 65 years, Israeli efforts to combat Palestinian terrorism have restricted the free movement of people and goods, and have damaged and destroyed much of the West Bank. However, given that all of this has been done in response to Palestinian terrorism, the blame rests squarely on the Palestinians, whose continued support of terrorism has made such Israeli actions necessary.
The Palestinian bid would have us believe that the Palestinians have always worked to protect and conserve the church, and that it is Israel which represents the threat. However, as an Israeli official statement correctly points out, “the world should remember that the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christians, was desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists,” an event completely ignored by Palestinian official statements. In 2002, Palestinian terrorists took hostages and hid from Israeli forces in the Church of the Nativity, as part of a pre-meditated scheme inviting the Israeli troops to violate the sanctity of the Church, by attacking them in that holy space, or damaging the building. Such a thing would have been a PR nightmare for Israel, which is, of course, precisely what the Palestinians would have wanted. For them, this sacred, holy, historical spot was merely a political tool, something to risk, and to even let get destroyed, if it meant causing trouble for the State of Israel.
It’s great that the Church of the Nativity has been named a World Heritage Site. It would have been nice, though, to see it identified as belonging to Israel, or at least shared between Israel & Palestine. While they’re at it, maybe UNESCO can name Israel (or Israel & Palestine) as the country controlling the Old City of Jerusalem, which was named a World Heritage Site in 1981 without any country named.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.