Palestinian Authority Seeks Unesco Status for Bethlehem Church

The Palestinian Authority will ask the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to place Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on its roster of protected World Heritage sites.

“One of the most significant sites of universal importance to humanity is the Old Town of Bethlehem and the birthplace of Jesus,” chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erakat said today in an e-mailed statement. “Palestinians long to share our patrimony with the world.”

Paris-based Unesco maintains a list of 911 sites around the world that carry World Heritage status and match at least one of 10 criteria, according to its website. Those include representing “a masterpiece of human creative genius” and association “with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.”

Israel criticized Unesco last November for protesting its inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a program to renovate historical sites.

The Unesco executive board said the action was a violation of international law because both cities are an “integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” The two sites are known to Muslims as the Bilal bin Rabah mosque and the Haram al-Ibrahimi.

Israel has six sites on the Unesco heritage list, including the ancient desert fortress of Masada and Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus-influenced modern architecture.

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