Under intense pressure by the PLO and its allies, the upcoming meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, from June 24 to July 6, is liable to find that the “Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route, Bethlehem” is under urgent danger and worthy of special UN protection, a declaration that could only further inflame the region.
What news reports fail to mention, however, is that the PLO’s submission — its first nomination to the World Heritage List since UNESCO voted to admit “Palestine” as a member in October 2011 — has been completely rejected by the professional body charged with evaluating country applications.
In its submission, the PLO claims that “the Israeli occupation,” which is “hampering the supply of appropriate materials,” creates an “emergency situation” that needs to be addressed by “an emergency measure.”
Yet a comprehensive investigation and report by The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) — a Paris-based entity that advises the World Heritage Committee on which nominated properties to list — said the very opposite:
“[T]he Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, Palestine should not be inscribed on the World Heritage List on an emergency basis. . . ICOMOS does not consider that the conditions required by paragraph 161 of the Operational Guidelines are fully met, concerning damage or serious and specific dangers to the Church of the Nativity that make its condition an emergency that needs to be addressed by the World Heritage Committee with immediate action necessary for the survival of the property.”
ICOMOS also found that, contrary to the Palestinian submission now before the UNESCO committee, the Church of the Nativity was neither “severely damaged,” nor “under imminent threat”.
There was no “immediate action… necessary for the survival of the property”. Despite the Palestinian claims, Israel was not found to be a major obstacle to the preservation of the Church of the Nativity. In fact, the report pointed out that the church’s roof – said to be at greatest risk – was repaired “most recently in 1990, when works were implemented by the Israeli military authorities.”
Accordingly, ICOMOS suggested that the PA “resubmit the nomination in accordance with normal procedures for nomination.”
The expert evaluation is public and known. Yet does anyone expect the 21-nation UNESCO committee — which includes such great promoters of human rights and culture as Algeria, Cambodia, Iraq, Malaysia, Mali, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, and the United Arab Emirates — to rule based on objective findings?