Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem May Become Palestine’s First World Heritage Site

Bethlehem
The government of Palestine is applying to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would be the first such site for the emerging nation.

The government of Palestine is eager to increase its recognition among the community of nations. While 130 countries recognize it as a country, a few don’t, most notably the United States and Israel. When Palestine was accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization with a vote of 107-14, the U.S. and Israel protested being outvoted by not paying their UNESCO dues.

The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.

Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.

The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.

UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.

[Photo courtesy Lewis Larsson]

Museums and politics in the West Bank

West BankA new bill working its way through the Israeli government would put museums on Israeli settlements in the West Bank under Israeli law.

This piece of legislation is more than it seems, the Jerusalem Post reports. The real purpose of the bill, as its author, minister Uri Ariel of the National Union party makes clear, is to slowly annex the West Bank.

If this bill passes, Ariel hopes it will open the door for more Israeli law to be applied to the West Bank, gradually incorporating it into the rest of the country.

Currently museums on West Bank settlements are under military law, a product of the region being taken from Jordan in the 1967 war, and thus cannot get the same kind of funding as other Israeli museums.

The West Bank and Gaza strip are nominally part of the Palestinian Authority, but this government has had trouble receiving full international recognition and much of its land is actually owned by Israelis. Palestinians are barred from or have limited access to much of the West Bank because of Israeli settlements and their security zones, as this UN map shows.

The Knesset (Israeli parliament) education Committee has already passed the bill and it will probably be seen by the entire Knesset in the next two weeks.

I visited some West Bank museums when I was working as an archaeologist in the region in the early Nineties. The Israeli ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Muslim atrocities. The Palestinian ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Jewish atrocities.

In a country like Israel, history and politics always go hand in hand.