|CHURCH of the Nativity in Bethlehem 370.(Photo by: REUTERS)|
The fiasco at UNESCO
By DAVID PARSONS
The latest UNESCO decisions will only whet the Palestinians’ appetite to encroach on more religious sites within Israel.
In Washington they joke that no one is safe so long as Congress is in session,
but nothing can compare to the “Flat Earth” society operating within the UN
Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization made a series of decisions regarding religious sites in
the Holy Land that are both patently absurd and woefully unhelpful in the search
for peace and mutual understanding in this fractured region.
UNESCO followed up on last year’s admission of “Palestine” as a member state of
the world body by listing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World
Heritage site located in this nonexistent country of
Incredibly, the traditional place of Christ’s birth and the
pilgrimage route leading to it were also added to the list of endangered World
In pushing for this decree, the Palestinian Authority
argued that the Church of the Nativity was in danger because the “Israeli
occupation” was preventing them from repairing a leaky roof in the church as
well as blocking access to this revered site.
Ahead of the vote, a team
of UNESCO experts had visited Bethlehem and determined that the church, in fact,
was not endangered and did not even qualify yet for World Heritage status. The
Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clerics who oversee the Nativity
compound concurred with these findings in a letter sent to UNESCO in April,
which urged that the site not be turned into a political football.
majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee did just that at its annual
session in St. Petersburg last Friday. Ignoring the pleas of the clergymen and
the advice of their own experts, 13 of the 21 member states on the Committee
voted to prematurely grant the church World Heritage status and blame Israel for
Now Israel was not opposed to listing the Nativity Church
as a place of great significance to the entire world. But it did object to the
politicizing of the process and to the finding that it is endangered. After all,
nothing is stopping the roof repairs and over two million Christian pilgrims
managed to safely visit the Church of the Nativity last year.
swipe at Israel last week, the UNESCO Committee also endorsed a Jordanian
declaration from some 30 years ago that accused Israel of endangering the Temple
Mount and walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Amman managed to add
Jerusalem’s walled city and the Temple Mount to the World Heritage list in 1981
and then to the endangered list in 1982. But according to the Petra news agency,
UNESCO has now accepted the Hashemite Kingdom’s claim that it has jurisdiction
over these areas and that the Israeli occupation is harming the cultural
heritage of the city.
The issue of Jerusalem is back on UNESCO’s agenda
because Israel is trying to repair a rickety foot bridge to the Mughrabi Gate,
the only access to the Temple Mount compound for Jews and Christians. It has
been in danger of collapsing in recent years due to local earth tremors and
heavy winter rains, and Israeli authorities have developed plans to replace the
wooden bridge with a sturdier structure.
But Jordan has objected,
insisting it alone has the right to make the repairs. The Palestinians also
exert a claim to being the proper guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy
sites in Jerusalem, yet the PA backed the recent Jordanian effort at
This is because the Israeli plan calls for first conducting an
archeological excavation of the embankment underneath the Mughrabi bridge and
the Palestinians are afraid even more artifacts will be uncovered there proving
the ancient Jewish connection to the area.
So it is clear that the
Palestinians are once again manipulating UN forums like UNESCO, where they enjoy
automatic majorities against Israel, to further their political campaign to
delegitimize the Jewish state. In this instance, they have portrayed Israel as a
reckless and uncivilized destroyer of cherished Christian and Muslim holy
places, and thus unfit to be included in the family of nations.
addition, the PA is once again circumventing direct talks with Israel to achieve
peace or cooperation at any level and instead trying to impose solutions from
UNESCO should not be lending itself to such machinations, as
this undermines its own stated goal of contributing to the building of peace
among nations and peoples through an intercultural dialogue based upon respect
for commonly shared values.
Yet UNESCO members have now entrusted a
revered church to a Palestinian regime that has compiled a sordid record on
safeguarding Christian and Jewish religious sites. For example, PA police stood
by in October 2000 while a Palestinian mob looted and razed Joseph’s Tomb in
Nablus. Upon orders from PA leader Yasser Arafat, PA security forces also
assaulted and forcefully removed Russian Orthodox priests and nuns at
monasteries in Hebron and Jericho.
Perhaps the most egregious example of
the PA’s lack of credibility when it comes to safeguarding holy sites occurred
at the very Church of the Nativity now entrusted to the Palestinians. In a
dramatic April 2002 standoff with IDF troops, gunmen from Arafat’s own Fatah
faction truly endangered the historic Church by commandeering the building and
wiring it throughout with explosives.
In contrast, it cannot be stressed
enough that Israel has a far better record on safeguarding and allowing access
to holy sites than any other sovereign who has ruled the Holy Land over these
Yet the fiasco goes on! And the latest UNESCO decisions
will only whet the Palestinians’ appetite to encroach on more religious sites
within Israel. In 2010, it was Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. Next, we could see
the PA exerting its claim to the Western Wall, which they insist is a Muslim
holy site known as the al-Buraq Wall, where Muhammad tied his winged horse in
his mythical “Night Journey.” After all, it lies just inches away from the
“Israeli occupied” Mughrabi bridge.
The writer is media director for the
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, www.icej.org.