By a two-third majority of 13 to 6 member states voting and 2 abstentions, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) inscribed “the Birthplace of Jesus, Church of the Nativity, the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem” as a Palestinian Heritage site last Friday (June 29).
Although the 21 member states decided by secret ballot, the decisive vote was given by France. The French Ambassador to UNESCO, Daniel Rondeau,was the only delegate to publicly announce his vote, justifying it as, “in line with his country’s policy since support for Palestine’s entry into UNESCO last October.”
A prior documented decision to reject the nomination, based on a ruling by the WHC’s expert advisory body, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), that the Palestinian claim, submitted after the deadline, could not satisfy special emergency circumstances, was in turn overruled.
A letter to President, Mahmoud Abbas, from the Catholic , Greek Orthodox and Armenian custodians of the Church of the Nativity, objecting to the Palestinian move was ignored. Indeed a spurious unsigned acceptance version was distributed by the Palestinian Authority.
Algeria acted as the enforcer on behalf of Palestine. Their working paper became the basis for the vote and remarkably justified it as, “Bethlehem is Holy to Christians as well as to Muslims. It is a strong symbol for more than two billion Believers in the world”
The Palestinian delegate›s triumphant reaction was more menacing than cultural: “Israel colonizers threaten the existence of the Palestinian people…we will present many more nominations in danger from Israel…”
Israeli Ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, responded: «This decision was political and does great damage to the World Heritage Convention. By sleight of hand, guardianship has been passed from the churches to a non-existing state…UNESCO lives in an Alice in Wonderland mentality.”
“France bears the greatest responsibility for this outcome. Indeed, the inscription would have been impossible without the French vote,” said Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director for International Relations, adding that, “The three other Europeans: Switzerland, Estonia and Germany all voted against. Though not a member of the WHC, the United States lobbied indefatigably to block this travesty.”
“The Wiesenthal Centre will convey its outrage to the French authorities, work with its friends to prevent further depredations against Christian properties and continue to campaign in international organizations in defense against identity theft of the Jewish heritage,” Samuels concluded.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).