News Release

U.S. Attacks Church of Nativity Designation by UNESCO

Sites added today by UNESCO to its “List of World Heritage in Danger” include the Church of the Nativity, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. UNESCO statement can be found here.

The U.S. and Israeli governments attacked the move.

Rev. MITRI RAHEB, mraheb at diyar.ps
Currently at Yale University, Raheb is senior pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem; he is also president of Diyar Consortium and of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem. He said today: “Today is a historic day for the Palestinian Christian Community with UNESCO voting the Church of the Nativity as a World Heritage Site. This is long overdue for a church used without any interruption for over 16 centuries, a church that is the home church for Palestinian Christian community. This will hopefully open the eyes of the world community to see that Bethlehem is in Palestine, and that the Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinian. We hope that doing justice to the church will be another step towards justice to our people. That is long overdue too.” Raheb is author of I Am a Palestinian Christian and the forthcoming God, the Middle East and the people of Palestine.

Rev. DONALD WAGNER, dwag42 at gmail.com
Wagner is program director of Friends of Sabeel–North America and a Presbyterian clergyperson, He said today: “We in Friends of Sabeel–North America and myself personally applaud the UNESCO decision as it affirms the historic continuity of Palestinian Christians dating back to the early 4th century, and by extension to Pentecost. Yes, Palestinian Christians predate the state of Israel by at least 17 centuries and the coming of Islam, and they still remain in the Holy Land. However, the Israeli occupation is now strangling Palestinian Christians and Muslims throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, causing many to leave — not due to religious tensions but the oppressive policies of the Israeli military occupation. I returned from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in May of this year as I led a church group to see the situation in Israel and Palestine. We were struck by the fact that Bethlehem has become an isolated ghetto, surrounded by a 25-foot wall, and the majority of the local Palestinians are unable to visit Jerusalem for medical treatment or to visit the Christian and Muslim holy sites that are just six miles away. We watched Christian tour groups from Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S. get off their buses and do a quick tour of the church of the Nativity, but fail to meet local Christians and Muslims to hear their stories of hope and loss, and enjoy their warm hospitality. Let us hope that this decision by UNESCO will not only preserve this historic church, but become a place where all the children of Abraham can come and see the truth of the occupation and make up their own minds about ‘the things that make for peace’ among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in that land. Let the emphasis be not so much upon these ancient stones but on the ‘living stones,’ the people who yearn for a normal life without war, impoverishment, and military occupation. We urge people across the globe to go and see the situation for themselves and discover the truth about the occupation, the illegal separation wall, and then work for true peace based on justice and eventual reconciliation.”

Video of Desmond Tutu is available at the Friends of Sabeel–North America webpage.