UNESCO's World Heritage committee has voted to approve a Palestinian bid to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its list of sites of World Heritage in Danger.So is the Church of the Nativity in real danger, or is this a cynical political move?
The Palestinians had pressed to have the church and pilgrimage route inscribed as an emergency candidate at the meeting of the World Heritage 21-nation committee in St. Petersburg, Russia.
UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said the committee voted 13-6 on Thursday to put the iconic Christian site on the list. Two nations abstained.
Emergency status for the candidacy meant the Palestinians could take a shortcut to getting the church on the list.
Some nations saw the move as an attempt by the Palestinians to mix politics and culture.
The United States and Israel, neither of which is on the committee, were 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.
PA officials are unambiguous:
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed UNESCO's decision, saying it strengthens the Palestinians' determination to act toward the establishment of an independent state within the 1967 borders.But the application to UNESCO the PA didn't say that the danger to the church was because of Israel - but because of water leaks.
"It's time for the UN and its organizations to take a political, legal, cultural and moral stance to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people, and prevent the risk posed to its cultural heritage due to the actions of the Israeli occupation," he said.
"This global recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people is a victory for our cause and for justice," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP, as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called it "a historic day."
"These sites are threatened with total destruction through the Israeli occupation, through the building of the separation wall, because of all the Israeli sanctions and the measures that have been taken to stifle the Palestinian identity," the Palestinian delegate said after the vote.
Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as it is suffering from damages due to water leaks.
Hmmm..the Palestinian Arabs saying one thing to one audience and a completely different thing to another. Sounds familiar.
Amazing how the church survived when Israel actually was in charge of the Church of the Nativity on a day to day basis.
The problem of the church roof leaking is an old one - and one that Israel offered to fix when Bethlehem was under full Israeli control. From AP, November 21, 1990 (click to enlarge):
The roof problem obviously has nothing to do with Israel, and priceless artifacts in the church have been getting damaged by leaks for a very long time. And the Palestinian Christians opposed Israel fixing the problem that is now regarded as an "emergency," at least in the application to UNESCO.
The biggest irony, of course, is that the Palestinian Arab leaders are saying that they want to preserve a holy Christian site at the exact same time that the Christians under their rule have been fleeing. From Gatestone Institute:
The drive to have the Church of the Nativity recognized as a global heritage site is nothing short of offensive. Christians have been driven out of their ancestral lands; Palestinians have shown nothing but hostility to both Christians and Jews. Moreover, Christ himself was a Jew.
Upon the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, Bethlehem had a Christian population of over 80 percent. With the rise of the Muslim population, Christians dwindled in numbers. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority took over the town in 1995, thanks to the Oslo Accords. Along with the PA, came a tribal political system which caused Bethlehem's Christian population, already at 15%, to further sink to 2% today. Under this political system Christians are targeted, seen as inferiors, and subjected to threats, violence, discrimination and acts of terrorism.
Upon entering Bethlehem Yasser Arafat was strategic in overtaking the Christian populace. He first expanded municipal boundaries to include 30,000 Muslims living in refugee camps, as well as Muslim Bedouins who lived east of the town.
The first and second intifadas further drove Christians out of their ancestral town as they became trapped in the crossfire between the Palestinians and Israelis. The violent struggle predictably drew international attention, and created the ideal platform for Palestinian sympathizers to levy blame on the so-called Israeli "occupation."
Israel's so-called "occupation" and "aggression" were solely based on self defense: both the Palestinian and Hamas Charters call for Israel's obliteration; Israel's southern cities is still live under nearly daily attack by hostile Arab States and forces seeking its destruction.
The Muslim aggression on the other hand is based on a conditioned, generational hatred against the Jews (and Christians) evidently determined to see the Jews of the State of Israel, a country the size of Vancouver Island, pushed into the sea, while an Islamic Caliphate is formed to rule the Middle East.
(h/t Leo Daf Hofshi)
UPDATE: Don't forget that the terrorists who cynically used the church to protect them from being captured by Israel in 2002, and who did great damage to the church itself, are considered heroes by the majority of Palestinian Arabs.