Palestinians want Bethlehem on UN heritage list

The Palestinians on Monday made a formal bid to have the no-longer-so-little town of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ, added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites.

"We are very proud to announce that we have submitted the nomination file of Bethlehem: birthplace of Jesus - Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route ... to the World Heritage Centre," tourism minister Khulud Daibes told reporters.

The addition of the West Bank town to the UNESCO list should have been almost automatic and accomplished a long time ago, but like most issues in the Holy Land, it has become entangled in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And the Palestinians are hoping that getting the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to recognise Bethlehem as a part of Palestinian cultural heritage will give impetus to their struggle to establish a state.

"This timing is crucial for us, it is part and parcel of our plan to end the (Israeli) occupation and build the institutions of the state of Palestine," Daibes said.

In the absence of constructive peace talks with Israel, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has been leading an effort to build institutions for a de-facto state.

They feel they have a strong case for Bethlehem's recognition when the UN committee meets to decide on the nominations in July 2012.

"Where Jesus Christ was born is one of the most important cultural places in the world. It is from here that the message of peace and light was brought to the world by the Prince of Peace," said Bethlehem mayor Victor Batarseh.

And UNESCO officials agree.

"Who can question that the Nativity Church is a world heritage site?" said Louise Haxthausen, head of UNESCO's Ramallah office, who has worked with the Palestinian tourism ministry in preparing the bid.

But in the end, UNESCO may not even be able to consider the bid for the same reason that it has not been added to the list to date: Palestine is not yet a recognised state.

At the same time as filing the nomination, the Palestinians have also applied for membership of the World Heritage Committee.

The tourism minister said she was hopeful the application would be accepted, though she conceded there was "no plan B."

Officials said UNESCO recognition was crucial to help preserve the Church of the Nativity, a fourth century basilica built by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

And preserving the church, which is built over the site of the stable where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus after she and Joseph could not find any room at the inn, was key to maintaining Bethlehem's status as the premier Palestinian tourist attraction.

Following the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, the spectre of unrest and violence kept tourists away, leaving the "little town" empty over several Christmases.

However, things began to change after the violence eased in 2005 and have gradually been improving, with 2010 being the third straight year Bethlehem has seen record numbers of visiting pilgrims and tourists.

Officials are now hoping that more than two million visitors will arrive in 2011 in the town of 27,000 that was, according to biblical scholars, a mere village outside Jerusalem in the period when Jesus was born.

Daibes said the bid was backed by the Greek Orthodox church as well as the Catholics and Armenians, who are custodians of the shrine.

It is not the first time that UNESCO has become embroiled in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the heritage of the Holy Land taking a more central role in the dispute.

Last November, Israel reduced its cooperation with UNESCO in protest at its description of Rachel's Tomb - a Jewish holy site near Bethlehem - as a mosque.

Rachel's Tomb, built over what is believed to be the burial place of the biblical matriarch, is the third holiest site in Judaism, but also considered a holy place for Muslims.

Earlier last year, Israel announced plans to include Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a national heritage restoration plan - a decision criticised by UNESCO as "escalating tension" in the area.

Israel defended the decision at the time, saying the plan involved only restoration work and promising there would be no attempt to change the delicate status quo at these sites.

Daibes said Bethlehem was only the first site they were seeking to have added to the list of World Heritage sites, and that Hebron and the ancient oasis town of Jericho would be next.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker