The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Christ, was added (along with the Pilgrimage Route) to UNESCO’s World Heritage List on Friday, a move that was celebrated by Palestinians who hailed it as a significant political and diplomatic achievement as much as a cultural one.
Perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in the West Bank, the shrine is administered by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches. It is run according to a 19th-century codex that assigns responsibilities for upkeep that are jealously guarded by each denomination.
The move is not untainted by politics. The venerated church is in what is now a Palestinian-administered part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It was the first such site to be nominated since Palestine was granted full membership in UNESCO eight months ago. Israel and the United States lobbied strongly against the church’s listing. The vote was 13-6. The Palestinians argued that the church is in urgent need of repairs, particularly a leaky wooden roof. The church is also the site that Palestinian gunmen, clerics and civilians occupied in 2002, taking refuge as Israeli tanks and troops pushed into Bethlehem.
The Associated Press file photo