Palestinians seek UN funds, heritage status for Bethlehem Nativity Church
Palestinians hope to persuade UNESCO this weekend to declare parts of Bethlehem and its Church of the Nativity endangered World Heritage sites in order to expedite funding for repairs.
Debate on the highly politicised issue is due to start on Friday at an annual meeting of the global cultural organisation’s World Heritage Committee in St. Petersburg, Russia, with a vote possible on Saturday or Sunday.
The 4th century church – built over a grotto where Christian tradition says Jesus was born – needs repairs, especially to its roof, and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is short of funds.
It has come up with only $3 million dollars for renovations, a small fraction of promised international aid. Palestinian officials said a decision by UNESCO to recognise the church as an endangered site would get money to Bethlehem faster.
The nomination request includes a short section of the Pilgrimage Route, the path which tradition says Joseph and Mary took into the city in their trek from Nazareth 2,000 years ago.
Palestinian civic groups, in a letter to UNESCO, pointed to what they describe as the dangers of Israeli occupation, citing in particular Israel’s 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity where militants took sanctuary during a Palestinian uprising.
Violence has subsided dramatically in recent years and more than 2 million people now visit the church annually.