» 06/30/2012 PALESTINE - ISRAEL Victory for Palestinian Authority: Church of the Nativity becomes UNESCO World Heritage site First time for a Palestinian site to be included on UN list. Palestinians celebrate and seek recognition for 20 other sites in East Jerusalem, Gaza and West Bank. Criticism from Israel and the United States who see a "politicization" of Unesco, contrary to the peace process. For Custody of the Holy Land the decision is "great news". The Churches have received assurances from Abu Mazen on their freedom as places of worship, according to the status quo. But the holy places should be "places of peace and serenity" for all the pilgrims.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) -
Satisfaction and pride among Palestinians, Israeli criticism and the quiet
appreciation from the Custodian of the Holy Land are the sentiments that
dominate today in Bethlehem after Unesco announced it was including The Church
of the Nativity and the pilgrimage route between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on its
list of World Heritage Sites. This
is the first time a a Palestinian site has been included on the list.
yesterday in St. Petersburg (Russia), the Heritage Committee of UNESCO (21
members) voted with 13 yes, 6 no and 2 abstentions to the proposal of the
Palestinian National Authority (PNA), presented in an "emergency procedure
because of the decay and degradation'' of the site and the "separation
barrier", consequences of the occupation by Israeli forces.
Ashrawi, a Christian Orthodox, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the PLO
(Palestine Liberation Organization) said that'' the Palestinian people gladly
welcomes this decision as a moment of national pride and an acknowledgment of
the uniqueness and the
richness of their own identity and their heritage.''
Abu Rdeina, spokesman for Palestinian President Abu Mazen, said that "this
is a historic day for justice" that the world - he added - has again
expressed its opposition to the occupation and was on the side of justice and of
international legitimacy, recognizing the Palestinian right to a State.
Juha, director of the Palestinian Center for the restoration of national
heritage, the author of the proposal, is overjoyed and has stoutly denied
Israel's allegations of an attempt to politicize the issue. "This
is not political - he says. It is a technical decision based on value. This
place is sacred to all mankind and especially for two billion Christians
Barkan, Israel's delegate to UNESCO, said that his country was not opposed to
enclosing the Church of the Nativity on the list of World Heritage sites, but
has criticized the urgency of the procedure, seen as a way to embarrass Israel
and mine the peace process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has branded all the UNESCO as being "not
motivated by political and not cultural reasons." The
U.S. delegate, David Killion, said he was "deeply disappointed by the
and the United States criticism is directed more at UNESCO than the question
about the Church of the Nativity. Last year the UN body was the first to recognize
PNA as a member thus opening the way for international recognition of a Palestinian
year Abu Mazen had presented the candidacy of Palestine as a UN member state,
but without success.
a kind of retaliation against the "politicization" of Unesco, the
United States withdrew its annual contribution of 80 million dollars,
representing a fifth of the UN budget.
the success of the initiative, the NPC has compiled a list of 20 sites that
Palestinians would like to include in the list of World Heritage, distributed
in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. These
would include the city of Jericho and its archaeological sites.
Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land expresses quiet acceptance of the UNESCO
decision, which he calls "great news". At
first, when the proposal had been raised, all the churches who officiate in the
church (Greek-orthodox, Catholics and Armenians) had expressed opposition over
fears that the action of the PNA could distort the use of the holy place.
Speaking at the
Franciscan Media Center, Fr. Pizzaballa,
however, ruled that "President Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian
Autonomy, has said very clearly, even in writing, in a formal letter to our
Churches (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Armenians and Custody) that guarantees
the full autonomy of Churches in management
of holy sites and respect the status quo and normal functions. This insurance
is very important. "
hope as churches - he added, reiterating the position always taken in the issue
- is that ... the holy places are considered first of all holy places and
religious and that cultural, political, local or international issues, are
excluded from the management, life, and dynamics of the holy places. They must
remain a place of peace and serenity for all pilgrims and not become a place of
difficult coexistence. This is our hope for Bethlehem and all the holy places.
Basilica of the Nativity was built in the fourth century under Emperor
Constantine, and encloses the cave and the manger where Jesus was born and laid. In the sixth century, it was destroyed in a
fire and rebuilt under Justinian. According
to tradition, in 614 the church was saved from Persians destruction, thanks to
the depiction in the upper part of the structure of the three Magi in national
2002 it suffered a siege by Israeli troops who wanted to flush out some
Palestinian militants who had taken shelter there. It
has long been in need of urgent restoration of the walls and columns, blackened
by the fires and the roof, which is very unstable is in need of repair. In
2011 the church was visited by at least two million pilgrims. (JL)