The State of Palestine is Recognized by the World Heritage Committee

UNESCO (The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is not usually known for their controversy.  However, the World Heritage Committee’s recent release of the list of new additions of World Heritage Sites has many people raising their eyebrows, calling the decision a ‘dangerous mix of politics and culture’.


The Church of the Nativity, located in Bethlehem, was added as a World Heritage Site on June 29.  The Church, which is over 1,500 years old, was built upon what Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus.  However, it is not the religious significance that has people up in arms; it’s the location.  The Church of the Nativity is officially listed as being located in the State of Palestine.


The verdict was met with celebration from Palestinians, who believe that the ruling is an affirmation of Palestinian authority over the area (currently an Israeli controlled section of the West Bank).  The Foreign Minister released a statement that the decision is considered a major stepping-stone on the path towards recognized statehood.  “This global recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people is a victory for our cause and for justice.”


Both the United States and Israel have expressed their displeasure with the decision.  Israel in particular, feels that this will have a negative impact on any peace negotiations.  “This decision proves that UNESCO is motivated by political motives, not cultural ones.  Rather than progressing towards peace, the Palestinians are resorting to unilateral moves that push it farther away,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The United States Ambassador to UNESCO released a statement saying, “The site clearly had tremendous religious and historical significance…however, this body [UNESCO] should not be politicized.”


The Church was added to the list on an emergency basis, which is reserved for when a site is in imminent danger.  However, independent UNESCO investigators recommended denying the request, saying “The roof certainly needs repair, but the shrine cannot be considered to be severely damaged or under imminent threat.”  Israel’s delegate to UNESCO said that they did support adding the Church as a Heritage site, but they felt it should have been done through the regular process and not pushed through as an emergency.  “ ‘Emergency Basis Status’ basically means that the UN as a world body is supporting the view that the Church is being threatened by Israeli troops.”  Israel points to the fact that in recent years, violence has been dramatically reduced in the area, and the Church sees over two million visitors every year.  In spite of the controversy, Palestine is currently in the process of registering 20 more sites with UNESCO.



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  1. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) defines a Palestine refugee as a person “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict”.[5] The descendants of the original Palestine refugees in the male line “are also eligible for registration.”[5] UNRWA aids all “those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance”[5] and those who first became refugees as a result of the Six-Day War, regardless whether they reside in areas designated as Palestine refugee camps or in other permanent communities. A Palestine refugee camp is “a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and to set up facilities to cater to their needs”.[5] Today, 58 UNRWA recognised refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank habor only “one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.4 million.”[5] The UNRWA definition does not cover final status.[5][16] In many cases UNHCR provides support for the children of Palestine refugees too.
    Registered descendants of UNRWA Palestine refugees are, like “Nansen passport” and “Certificate of Eligibility” holders (the documents issued those displaced by World War II) and UNHCR refugees [17] are inherited the same UNRWA Palestine refugee status as their male parent.
    Based on the UNRWA definition, the number of original Palestine refugees has declined from 711,000 in 1950 to an estimated 30 to 50,000 in 2012. According to Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva the original Palestinian diaspora is about 65,000. An estimated 5 million Palestine refugees are registered in total in 2012. In 2012 the number of registered descendants of male parents of the original Palestine refugees, based on the UNRWA registration requirements, are an estimated 4,950,000.

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