BETHLEHEM, June 27, 2012 (WAFA) – Thousands of residents and institutions in the West Bank biblical city of Bethlehem Wednesday urged the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize their city as a World Heritage Site.
In an open letter to the members of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee Bethlehem institutions and residents said this recognition would preserve and protect their city and its holy places that face serious dangers from the Israeli occupation.
“After 45 years of illegal Israeli occupation, a window of opportunity has been opened: countries like yours can make a difference and invest in peace by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and support our effort to protect our city, Bethlehem, and list it as World Heritage in Danger. This is our overdue right,” said the signatories to the letter.
The Palestinian Authority, which joined UNESCO as a full member last year, have asked the World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, to include Bethlehem, and specifically the Church of Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, on the World Heritage List.
Israel and the United States, who stopped funding UNESCO after Palestine was admitted as full member in October, oppose this move and have been exerting pressure on the 21 member states of the World Heritage Committee not to consider the Palestinian request.
“We ask you to join us in protecting our city, Bethlehem, and its rich heritage. Help us preserve the Church of the Nativity and other holy sites so that their message of peace to humanity can be preserved,” said the Bethlehem residents in their open letter to the Committee.
“Bethlehem, its old city and churches have been victims of deliberate Israeli military attacks, in 1967 and again between 2001 and 2002. Most of what was restored by the international community after the Oslo Accords was signed in 1994 was destroyed by Israeli occupation forces. Our nomination as a World Heritage Site is not only a right, it is a need,” said the letter.
“We call on you to lend Bethlehem your voice and vote in favor of the inclusion of Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site. The time for our long overdue admission is now. The international community has a legal and moral responsibility to protect our sites. We believe that this is a step in the direction of peace, providing historical justice to our city, its holy places and its people.”
The letter said that a positive vote “will mean that there are no exceptions to the commitment the world has made to protect and preserve world heritage.”
The letter was signed by Bethlehem and its area municipalities as well as several Christian and Muslim charities and organizations and thousands of residents, including priests, professors, artists, students, sportsmen, workers and others.