The secretariat of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has come out against a bid by the Palestinian Authority to use an emergency procedure to register Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity under the country of “Palestine” as a World Heritage site.
“At the UN, where the General Assembly each year adopts more resolutions criticizing Israel than on the rest of the world combined, this is a spectacle as rare as Halley’s Comet,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said…
“This is the first time in recent memory that a draft resolution circulated by the United Nations – let alone by UNESCO, which recently elected Assad’s Syria to its human rights committee – openly rejected a Palestinian claim or position,” Neuer said. His Geneva-based nonprofit group monitors UN activity.
Actually, this is not in the least surprising.
The Christian world understands quite well what would be likely to happen to its holy places under Muslim rule. While it is unlikely that the PA would immediately flatten the church and build a mosque on the site — although one wonders how long it would take Hamas to do so — even the relatively moderate Jordanians severely limited access by Christians between 1948 and 1967, and of course totally excluded Christians who were Israeli nationals. Israel, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to protect and provide access to Christian (and Muslim) sites.
In Egypt, Muslim extremists have attacked and destroyed churches and murdered Christians, who are 12% of the population. If the Muslim Brotherhood should take power, Christians may officially be declared dhimmis and forced to pay a special tax:
When asked what he thought about many Christian Copts coming out to vote for his secular opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, [Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed] Morsi reportedly said, “They need to know that conquest is coming, and Egypt will be Islamic, and that they must pay jizya or emigrate.”
I’m certain that the 2002 invasion of the Church of the Nativity hasn’t been forgotten. I’ll quote at length from an account by David Raab (see link for sources):
…”More than 100 Palestinian gunmen…[including] soldiers and policemen, entered the Church of the Nativity on Tuesday, as Israeli troops swept into Bethlehem in an attempt to quell violence by Palestinian suicide bombers and militias.”34 The actual number of terrorists was between 150 and 180, among them prominent members of the Fatah Tanzim. As the New York Times put it, “Palestinian gunmen have frequently used the area around the church as a refuge, with the expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near the shrine” [emphasis added].35
And in fact this was the case. The commander of the Israeli forces in the area asserted that the IDF would not break into the church itself and would not harm this site holy to Christianity. Israel also deployed more mature and more reserved reserve-duty soldiers in this sensitive situation that militarily called for more agile, standing-army soldiers.36
On the other hand, the Palestinians did not treat it the same way. Not only did they take their weapons with them into the Church of the Nativity and fire, on occasion, from the church, but also reportedly booby-trapped the entrance to the church.37
On April 7, “one of the few priests evacuated from the church told Israeli television yesterday that gunmen had shot their way in, and that the priests, monks and nuns were essentially hostages….The priest declined to call the clergy ‘hostages,’ but repeatedly said in fluent English: ‘We have absolutely no choice. They have guns, we do not.'”38
Christians clearly saw the takeover as a violation of the sanctity of the church. In an interview with CWNews, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s Undersecretary of State and the top foreign-policy official, asserted that “The Palestinians have entered into bilateral agreements [with the Holy See] in which they undertake to maintain and respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the rights of Christian communities. To explain the gravity of the current situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied – for such a lengthy time – by armed men.”39 On April 14, he reiterated his position in an interview on Vatican Radio.40
On April 24, the Jerusalem Post reported on the damage that the PA forces were causing:
Three Armenian monks, who had been held hostage by the Palestinian gunmen inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, managed to flee the church area via a side gate yesterday morning. They immediately thanked the soldiers for rescuing them.
They told army officers the gunmen had stolen gold and other property, including crucifixes and prayer books, and had caused damage….
One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, later told reporters: “They stole everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole everything….They stole our prayer books and four crosses…they didn’t leave anything. Thank you for your help, we will never forget it.”
Israeli officials said the monks said the gunmen had also begun beating and attacking clergymen.41
When the siege finally ended, the PA soldiers left the church in terrible condition:
The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity seized church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They also guzzled beer, wine, and Johnnie Walker scotch that they found in priests’ quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. The indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day siege, when the food and drink ran out, according to an account by four Greek Orthodox priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal….
The Orthodox priests and a number of civilians have said the gunmen created a regime of fear.
Even in the Roman Catholic areas of the complex there was evidence of disregard for religious norms. Catholic priests said that some Bibles were torn up for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed. “Palestinians took candelabra, icons and anything that looked like gold,” said a Franciscan, the Rev. Nicholas Marquez from Mexico.42
Please explain again why Christians might be nervous about the church being in ‘Palestine’!