BETHLEHEM – Palestinian officials, diplomats, religious figures and a few
hundred Palestinians on Saturday partook in the celebration of the addition of
the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route to UNESCO’s World Heritage
List a week ago in St. Petersburg.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said
the inclusion is “the most remarkable event on the path of Palestinian
state-building since the establishment of the Palestinian
Speaking from the podium in front of Manger Square in
Bethlehem, Fayyad said that UNESCO’s decision is important as it evidences an
international acknowledgment of Palestinian sovereignty over their land in the
“It’s a recognition of our people, who deserve and are
able to protect this humane heritage that Bethlehem and its jewel, the Nativity
Church, represent,” he added.
Fayyad called on the UN’s institutions to
protect the Palestinian people, land, holy places and human heritage from the
Israeli “occupation” and “terror” of its settlers.
The prime minister was
joined by Palestinian officials in inaugurating a plaque commemorating the
“Here we are from the heart of Bethlehem where we
overlook the Aksa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the
eternal capital of our future state,” he said.
“It [joining the list]
brings hope and confidence in the triumph of our just case,” Fayyad said,
thanking all ambassadors, ministries and departments that followed the
Palestinian UNESCO file.
The square was decorated with large signs, one
of which read “Palestine: Thank you UNESCO,” and another proclaiming “Yes to
Bethlehem.” Women involved in organizing the event wore Palestinian folk
On June 29, the birthplace of Jesus Christ became the first
Palestinian site on the World Heritage List. This follows a vote by UNESCO’s
states in October 2011 that recognized Palestine as a member state – the first
UN organization to do so.
The PA Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said
it began preparing the nomination file in 2010, even though Palestine was not
yet a UNESCO member. “The choice of Bethlehem was intended and was based on the
inarguable, outstanding universal value of the town,” the ministry said in a
Following Palestine’s admission at UNESCO, the PA adopted four
agreements, the most important of which was a convention regarding the
protection of world cultural and natural heritage sites – which enabled
Palestine to submit the nomination file.
Maisa Hanna, a 39-year-old
mother of three who brought her children to the event, told The Jerusalem Post
that she feels proud that Palestinians are getting world recognition. “We are
now behaving like other states in the world,” she said.
hopefully lead us to an independent state. I want them to be happy for their
Right across the podium, some citizens and tourists sat in the
square’s few coffee shops. Khader Kan’an, manager of The Square restaurant, told
that he did not view the UNESCO move as crucial.
“It’s not an
achievement but at the same time, it’s not irrelevant. But I don’t think it will
affect the tourism in the city,” he said, explaining that the world already
knows about Bethlehem’s attractions.”
The tourism ministry’s statement
named 20 sites it was considering for future list nominations. This included the
cities of Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus; archeological sites such as the Saint
Hilarion Monastery in Gaza; and natural sites such as the Dead Sea and the Wadi
Gaza Coastal Wetlands.
Singer Sana Moussa sang “Mawtini (My Homeland)” as
the crowd stood up and waved their Palestinian flags, which were distributed
right before the start of the event. The host had asked them to wave their flags
As bands played patriotic songs, people danced for the
rest of the evening.