Unlike the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest places in Christendom, is not on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. It lies inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians, with no state of their own, do not enjoy the full U.N. membership to secure United Nations recognition.
On Monday, they announced plans to rectify what the U.N. cultural agency agrees is a glaring anomaly that has placed the church — built 1,700 years ago over the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born — in international limbo.
“This step is part and parcel of our plan to end the (Israeli) occupation and establish a state,” said Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khouloud Daibes, presenting a formal submission to the UNESCO heritage committee, which over the past 40 years has denoted more than 900 sites of “outstanding universal value to humanity.”
An estimated two million pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the Church of the Nativity this year, bending low to enter by the Door of Humility to the basilica, whose rafters were donated by the 15th century English king, Edward IV. For Christian pilgrims it is as holy as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, a few kilometres to the north, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 30 years.