UNESCO Declares Bethlehem Church a World Heritage Site

Last week, UNESCO accepted Palestinians’ application to have Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (left), the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, declared a “World Heritage Site” under the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The list of roughly 1000 such sites worldwide, nominated by states that have signed the Convention, is essentially an honor roll, though named properties can qualify for UN restoration funds and for protection under the laws of war. Adding the Church of the Nativity was more controversial than usual. The US and Israel objected because of the implications for Palestinian statehood. Additionally, the three Christian communions that share the shrine under the 19th-Century Status Quo, which CLR Forum has discussed before, worry that designation as a World Heritage Site will lead to interference from civil authorities. In fact, the threat of outside interference typically gets the communions to settle differences among themselves, which may explain last fall’s agreement on repairs to the church’s roof. This is not the first time the church has been the subject of world diplomacy. In the 19th Century, rival claims to the church caused an international crisis that contributed to the Crimean War.

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