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Heritage status of oldest Christian church falls foul of Mid-East conflict

Facade, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Palestinians maintain UNESCO bid for Nativity church
June 14, 2012

PARIS — The Palestinians plan to go ahead with their bid to put one of Christianity’s holiest sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List despite a negative report by experts, their envoy to the body said Thursday.

Ambassador Elias Sanbar said the report on the Church of the Nativity was “biased” and “politicised” and was influenced by the United States and Israel, which sought to block the Palestinians from joining UNESCO last October.

Paris-based UNESCO said last week that its World Heritage Committee would consider the church in Bethlehem for inclusion on the prestigious list during its next meeting from June 24 to July 6 in Saint Petersburg.

The full site to be listed would be the “Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem,” UNESCO said, noting that it would be the first such site in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which evaluates sites for UNESCO, last week delivered a negative report that said the Palestinians had not carried out a full survey of threats to the site.

Sanbar rejected that report, saying that “those who lost the battle in the vote on Palestine’s admission to UNESCO want to prevent us from exercising our rights”.

The Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO in October, when its general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.The result angered the United States, Israel’s staunch ally, which says the Palestinians must reach a peace agreement with the Jewish state before they can become full members of an international organisation.

Israel and the United States subsequently cut funding to UNESCO, depriving the organisation of 22 percent of its revenues.  The Church of the Nativity is the most visited tourist site in the Palestinian territories, welcoming 1.5 million visitors in 2010.

PA advised against bid for Bethlehem church

UNESCO committee comes out against PA bid to use emergency procedure to register Church of Nativity in “Palestine.”

By Tovah Lazaroff, JPost
June 15, 2012

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.

He first published news of the rejection on his blog, and circulated it to the media.

“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.

The secretariat’s resolution echoes a conclusion by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, whose professional staff similarly concluded that the Palestinians should pursue World Heritage registration through regular channels. It, like the secretariat, said that more could be done to improve the technical nature of the application.

The Church of the Nativity is one of the 36 potential new World Heritage sites. A World Heritage Committee of 21 countries is set to debate their inclusion during a meeting that will be held from June 24 to July 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The draft resolution posted by the secretariat on the World Heritage website states that the Palestinians should “resubmit the nomination in accordance with normal procedures for nomination, to allow a proper assessment of integrity, authenticity and conversation, and proper consideration ofmanagement arrangements and appropriate boundaries for the property.”

The final decision will be made by a two-thirds vote of the 21 countries that are members of the World Heritage Committee.

The PA has asked the World Heritage Committee to consider adding the church to its list through an emergency procedure reserved for endangered sites.

Approval by the 21-member committee would mark the first time that a World Heritage Site has been registered to the country of “Palestine.”

The United Nations has not recognized Palestine as a member state. But in October, UNESCO vote to include Palestine on its list of 195 member states, and to accord it full state rights in all UNESCO-related bodies, such as the World Heritage Committee.

In March, after the PA signature on the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was ratified, the PA asked the World Heritage Committee to register the church and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem.

In its application, the PA said, “The combined effects of the consequences of the Israeli occupation and the lack of scientific and technical measures for restoring and preserving the property are creating an emergency situation that should be addressed by an emergency measure.”

Israel has opposed registering the site under Palestine, until such time as it becomes a state as a result of a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has opposed all unilateral steps toward statehood by the PA.

It does, however, support registering the church as a World Heritage site, and would have wanted to present it to the committee together with the Palestinians as a joint endeavor.

Israel’s position at present is simply to urge the 21 member countries to support the secretariat’s position.

The Palestinians in turn say that the church is endangered and that it is their right to register the site solely under Palestine.

ICOMOS Report for the World Heritage Committee
36th ordinary session, Saint Petersburg, June – July 2012

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem (Palestine)
No 1433
Official name as proposed by the State Party: Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route, Bethlehem
Location: Bethlehem Governorate

Brief description
The Church of the Nativity was originally constructed in 399 AD above a cave, traditionally acknowledged since at least the 2nd century AD as being the birthplace of Jesus. Its reconstruction after a fire in the mid-6th century is the basic structure that has survived to the present.

During the Crusader era of the 12th century, the church was embellished with paintings and mosaics, traces of which survive. Since mediaeval times the church has become increasingly embedded within a complex of mainly ecclesiastical buildings, including Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian Convents.

During various periods over the past 1,500 years, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity have been major pilgrim destinations. The eastern end of the traditional route from Jerusalem to the Church, which is followed ceremonially each year by the Patriarchs of the three Churches at their several Christmases, is included
within the boundaries.

The ensemble is put forward as the first part of a serial nomination, which it is said will include sites inside and surrounding Bethlehem, particularly those related to the story of the birth and life of Jesus.

Category of property
In terms of categories of cultural property set out in Article I of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, this is a group of buildings.

1 Basic data
The nomination was submitted by the State Party as an Emergency Nomination as the Church of the Nativity and its architectural complex are considered to have greatly suffered from the lack of proper regular and restoration works because of the political situation in the area and region since 1967. Despite the efforts of the local religious Authorities and the insistence of the international Community and particularly UNESCO, it is stated that no major restoration works have been undertaken at the Nativity Church. Furthermore, local Palestinian Authority are stated to be having great difficulties in the provision of materials and equipment needed for the maintenance and restoration works because of the lack of free movement imposed by the Israeli forces.

The main reasons for the decay and degradation of the architectural complex of the Church of the Nativity are considered by the State Party to be:
• Water penetration through the roof;
• The use of inappropriate building materials;
• Lack of proper maintenance, especially in the last 50 years;
• The huge number of visitors that are adding up to the speed of deterioration inside the Church.
ICOMOS has consulted several independent experts.
Technical Field Visit
An ICOMOS Technical Field visit was undertaken at the property between 30 April and 1 May 2012. This technical visit was only to the Church of the Nativity and only considered the state of conservation of those aspects of its fabric that are related to the request for Emergency Inscription.
2. The property
Bethlehem lies 10km south of Jerusalem in the fertile limestone hills of the biblical Ephrah. The town developed on one moderately sized hill with the Church of the Nativity on a nearby hill, separated by a saddle of land.

Until around a hundred years ago, the Church of the Nativity, and its surrounding walled monastic complexes, dominated an open terraced landscape. It was described in 1887 as looking ‘like a large feudal castle’. Today the town has spread around the church and out into that landscape leaving only the comparatively recent bell towers rising above the buildings. Its massive buttressed walls are now largely hidden from all but close views.

The centre of Bethlehem, consisting of the two hills and the extent of the settlement that existed at the end of the 19th century has been delineated as the ‘historic centre’ for management and conservation processes. This forms the buffer zone for the nominated area. The nominated area consists of the following:
• The Church of the Nativity
• Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian Convents and churches
• Bell towers
• Terraced gardens
• Pilgrimage Route

The Church of the Nativity
By the 2nd century AD, a cave at Bethlehem had become venerated as the birthplace of Jesus. Under the patronage of the Roman Emperor Constantin, a church was built above and around the cave. Completed in 339AD, its octagonal sanctuary allowed worshipers to look down into the traditional manger. Adjoining this was a five aisled basilican church with massive monolithic columns topped by Corinthian capitals, and to the west an open atrium. The church stood at the east end of a long street that formed the backbone of the nearby small town. This first church was demolished after a fire in the 6th century but its highly elaborate geometric mosaic floors survived.

The 6th century rebuilding, under the Emperor Justinian kept the form of the nave but incorporated the cave under an apsed chancel. The atrium was moved further west and separated from the nave by a narthex across the width of the building. The basic structure of this second church survives. This new church had 46 columns of red limestone (from a local quarry) with Corinthian capitals. On thirty of them are traces of paintings that belong to a 12th century Crusader renovation of the church. The images are of the heavenly hierarchy, and also saints, bishops and sanctified monarchs.

In Crusader times [11th-13th centuries CE], two walls of the nave and a chancel apse were also decorated with mosaics, the two main ones depicting the seven General Councils of the (Latin) Church and the six Provincial Councils of the Greeks, thus showing fundamental agreement between the two. Some of these mosaics were damaged by vandals in 1872 and others by a defective roof and only fragments now remain. The mosaics were however recorded in the 18th century.

Beneath the present nave floor of red stone, lie the remains of a geometrically patterned mosaic floor dating from the 5th century. A carved wooden door within the central doorway to the nave was a gift from the King of Armenia in 1227. Within the church are one 16th and several 17th century icons, some of which have been reconstructed or renovated.

Two flights of steps lead down from the aisles of the church to the Cave of the Nativity. Its marble floor was ornamented in 1717 with a star to mark the birthplace. This was removed in 1847 (an incident that contributed to the Crimean War) and replaced in 1853. The walls of the cave are partly lined with marble and partly covered with silks and buckram. A lower grotto associated with the manger, is adorned with marble colonettes of the Crusader period.

The narthex has been subdivided at different times and is now in three parts. The northern part has Byzantine frescoes on part of its walls and is used by the Franciscan St Helena’s chapel. The southern part is used by the Armenian convent. The central part still provides a porch to the nave. The timber roof dates from the 12th century. The 6th century atrium at the west end no longer exists. It is now mainly an open space that was paved in 1932.

3 Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity
Comparative analysis
The brief comparative analysis suggests that Bethlehem is ‘genuinely unique, in the proper sense of the word, and to seek analogues in a World Heritage context may mislead and possibly demean’. The analysis appears to be looking for comparators rather than demonstrating that none can be found. It suggests that Bethlehem could be said to be similar to the Vatican, Italy, Lumbini, Nepal, and Takht-eSuleiman, Iran.

What the brief analysis does not do is to demonstrate why Bethlehem, in terms of a combination of its fabric, associations, and use, can be said to be exceptional. ICOMOS considers that the comparative analysis as set out is incomplete but that a more thorough analysis could justify inclusion of this property on the World Heritage List.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The nominated property is considered by the State Party to be of Outstanding Universal Value as a cultural property for the following reasons:
• Since the 2nd century AD the Church of the Nativity has been associated with the birthplace of Jesus;
• The present Church, largely of mid-6th century date, is the oldest Christian church in daily use;
• The Church is now embedded in an extraordinary ensemble of mainly monastic buildings, overseen by members of the Greek Orthodox, the Order of St Francis and the Armenian Church;
• For most of the past 1500 years, Bethlehem has been a pilgrim destination;
• The Christian Christmas, centred on Bethlehem, is the most widely-celebrated religious festival in the world.

ICOMOS considers that the nominated complex does have the potential to demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value for the way its fabric and its associations have combined to reflect the extraordinary influence of Christianity in spiritual and political terms over 1500 years.

Integrity and authenticit
The nominated areas encompass the entirety of the Church of the Nativity and its associated monastic buildings as well as an area of terraced land to the east and a short stretch of the Pilgrimage Route. It thus includes all the buildings that form the focus of pilgrimage and the cave that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

The integrity of the surroundings of the property are however problematic in terms of the context of the Church of the Nativity and approaches to it as a spiritual centre. The boundaries are tightly drawn in a way that dissociates the complex from its urban setting. The rationale for including a short section of the Pilgrimage Route, but without the buildings either side of it, are not clear in terms of how this can be reflected on the ground.

The lack of a full evaluation mission has made it impossible to consider the precise relationship between the Church and Monastic complex, the stretch of Pilgrimage Route, and the town, and thus how far the town contributes to its value. However the nomination dossier clearly acknowledges the great urban pressure that is disturbing the traditional urban fabric, leading to new constructions around the nominated areas and having a negative impact on views to and from the property.

The association of the site with the place that was believed to be the birthplace of Jesus is documented from the 4th century AD and from then on the buildings added to it have been constructed to enhance this religious significance. The main church largely dates from the 6th century, but retains it 4th century floor, and has 12th century and later alterations. The 12th century additions reflect the Crusades that led to one of the upsurges in pilgrimage activity.

From medieval times the main church has been supported by monastic communities for which there is strong material evidence. The buildings of one of the monastic complexes dates back to at least the 12th century while there is evidence under the others for earlier monastic buildings dating to the 12th century. Apart from the Armenian Convent, most of their current structures date from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The ability of the property to convey its spiritual links appears to a degree to be compromised by the lack of control for development and use in its immediate surroundings. The nomination dossier calls it ‘one of the most historic and significant places on earth’. Yet many visitors are apparently disappointed by the reality. The link between the Church and its monastic complexes and the town of Bethlehem needs also to be strengthened in terms of the way the two developed in tandem over the centuries.

The lack of details in the nomination dossier on the fabric of the buildings and the lack of a full evaluation mission to consider their current conservation means that it is not possible to provide a proper statement of authenticity.

ICOMOS considers that the conditions of integrity and authenticity cannot be properly ascertained at the present time.

Criteria under which inscription is proposed
The property is nominated on the basis of cultural criteria (iv) and (vi).
Criterion (iv): be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in
human history; This criterion is justified by the State Party on the grounds that the Church of the Nativity is an outstanding example of an early church in a remarkable architectural ensemble which illustrates both a significant stage in human history in the 4th–6th centuries AD and in later stages up to the present century.

ICOMOS considers that the fabric of Church of the Nativity and its monastic ensemble reflect two significant stages in human history. These are the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity which led to the development of a church on the site believed to be associated with Jesus’s birth, and to the power and influence of Christianity in the period of the Crusades that led to the development of monastic communities and to embellishments of the Church of the Nativity.

ICOMOS considers that the property has the capacity to justify this criterion, but a full study of the attributes that convey its value, needs to be undertaken.

Criterion (vi): be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance;
This criterion is justified by the State Party on the grounds that the Church of the Nativity, and the Pilgrimage Route to it, are directly associated with events and beliefs of outstanding universal significance. ICOMOS considers that the Church of the Nativity, is associated with the birth of Jesus, an event of outstanding universal significance, through the buildings that have been developed on the site since the 5th century AD.

ICOMOS considers that the property has the capacity to justify this criterion but a full study of the attributes that convey its value need to be undertaken. ICOMOS considers that the criteria have the potential to be justified but in the absence of a full mission, the conditions of authenticity and integrity have not been fully assessed at this stage, nor has it been possible to fully understand the attributes that convey its value, or an appropriate boundary.

4. Factors affecting the property
Emergency Threats
The emergency threat is stated to be the present state of conservation of the Church of the Nativity. This is said to be not good in terms of its roof and the potential for water ingress. These are caused both by a lack of repair and a lack of regular maintenance. The nomination dossier states that because of these threats, the Church could be considered endangered.

These threats were considered by the ICOMOS technical expert and details of the situation that the expert observed are set out below under Conservation. Other threats listed in the nomination dossier, but which have not been assessed by a mission, include the following:

Development pressures

Its location within the historic town of Bethlehem means that the setting of the Church of the Nativity and its monastic buildings are under considerable development pressure. Under an agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Israeli Government, the lands of the city of Bethlehem are divided into two zones, A and C. Zone A includes the nominated property and its surrounding historic town; zone C covers the populated areas surrounding it. Palestinians are allowed to build in Zone A while Zone C is controlled by the Israeli military.

The accelerating need for commercial property and for accommodation is said to be leading to great pressure on the traditional urban fabric around the nominated area. On the opposite side however, it is said that many younger people are moving out of the historic area to new homes in the suburbs.

Tourism pressures
The large number of visitors is said to be adding to the speed of deterioration inside the Church of the Nativity. High number of visitors within the church can lead to fluctuations in humidity and excessive moisture condensation on the underside of the roof. High levels of tourists are also leading to pressure for new building within its immediate context. However it is acknowledged that tourism fluctuates with changes in the military situation. It is also underdeveloped and could increase in the future.

Currently many tourists are bussed in and do not contribute much to the local economy. Parking is unregulated and vehicles are parked right up to the walls of the church. Old buildings are being knocked down and replaced with new facilities
for tourists.

It is acknowledge that the needs of the visitor economy have led to the disfigurement of buildings in the old town and the introduction of inappropriate massive new ones close to the Church of the Nativity. The need for a visitor management strategy is also acknowledged.

Environmental pressures
The sharp increase in the number of vehicles, inadequate parking, and small industries within the historic town, have produced a polluted environment that is negatively affecting the façades of both the Church and the buildings along the Pilgrimage Route.

The abandonment and misuse of existing water cisterns is said to lead to water leakage and inadequate water collection, as well as structural damage to buildings.
Bethlehem is facing a water crisis as there is insufficient water to be purchased from outside the town and too much leakage.

ICOMOS considers that the main threats to the property are lack of conservation of the Church of the Nativity and possibly lack of maintenance and repair of the wider
complex. Largely unregulated tourism and development pressures are combining to destroy key elements of the urban fabric that provides the context for the Church and
monasteries and to impact on its spiritual qualities.

5 Protection, conservation and management
Boundaries of the nominated property and buffer zone
The boundaries enclose the Church of the Nativity and its monastic complexes. They also include a small section of the Pilgrim Route and an open area to the east of the Church.

As no full mission has been undertaken, it is not possible to state whether or not these boundaries are adequate but they appear to be very tightly drawn and to exclude those parts of the urban fabric that provides the context for the Church and its monasteries.

The buffer zone covers the whole of the historic city of Bethlehem.
ICOMOS has not been able to assess the adequacy of the boundaries of the nominated property or of its buffer zone.

The Church of the Nativity is owned by The Greek Orthodox Church, Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Church according to the Status Quo of the Holy Places (1852). The Armenian Convent is owned by the Armenian Patriarchate. The Greek Orthodox Church is owned by The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The St Catherine’s Church and the Catholic Convent are owned by the Custody of the Holy Land.


Legal Protection
The nomination dossier states that: According to the Jordanian Old Antiquities Law no. 51/yr 1966 applied in the West Bank, Article no 2/c, an Ancient Archaeological Remain is defined as ‘any mobile or fixed object constructed, engraved, built, discovered, made or modified by the human race before the year 1700’ and/or ‘any object, mobile or fixed, that dates back to after the year 1700, declared by the minister as an archaeological ancient object’. These objects are protected under the law. The implications of this are unclear.

It is also stated that protection is related to planning regulations. These have strengthened in recent years with the approval of The General Rules for the Protection of Historic Areas and Historic Individual Buildings, ‘Annex no. 10’, by the Higher Council of Planning in 2006. These rules are considered part of the Building and Planning Regulations for Local Authorities.

The Rules provide guidelines for interventions in the historic centre. But the nomination dossier states that ‘it now remains to be seen whether they can be effective in reversing existing negative impacts and avoiding further inroads to a still largely homogenous urban fabric’.

Traditional Protection

The nominated area apart from the pilgrimage route, is controlled jointly by three Christian denominations – the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, although the Greek Orthodox Church is responsible for the majority of the Church of the Nativity.

7 Emergency Nomination
This nomination is put forward as an Emergency Nomination under paragraph 161 and 162 of the Operational Guidelines. The justification for this is as follows:

• The Church of the Nativity and its monastic complex have greatly suffered from the lack of regular and restoration works because of the political situation in the area and the region since 1967.
• Despite the efforts of the local religious authorities and the insistence of the International Community and particularly UNESCO which launched the ambitious programme called ‘Bethlehem 2000’ for the rehabilitation of the historic city and religious complex, no major restoration works were undertaken at the Nativity Church.
• As with other properties that suffered from the result of armed conflict, the property should be immediately inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger.
• The lack of free movement imposed by the Israeli security forces is hampering the supply of appropriate materials.
• Overall the combined effects of the consequences of the Israeli occupation and the lack of scientific and technical measures for restoring and preserving the property are creating an emergency situation that should be addressed by an emergency measure.

Paragraph 161 of the Operational Guidelines states that emergency nominators procedures apply ‘in the case of properties which, in the opinion of the relevant Advisory Bodies, would unquestionably meet the criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List and which have suffered damage or face serious and specific dangers from natural events or human activities’. The nomination needs to ‘describe the nature of the emergency, including the nature and extent of the damage or danger and showing that immediate action by the Committee is necessary for the survival of the property’. The valuation needs to assess Outstanding Universal Value, and the nature of the emergency, damage and/or danger.

In ICOMOS’s view the Church of the Nativity and its surrounding monastic complex do have the capacity to be considered of demonstrating Outstanding Universal Value. However the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value have not been assessed, nor have considerations of integrity and authenticity, and no study has been made of the adequacies of the boundaries or of the requirements of protection and management. In terms of threats, in ICOMOS’s view, the Church of the Nativity has suffered from the lack of maintenance and the lack of conservation. As it acknowledged in the nomination dossier this has been partly to do with the lack of collaboration between the religious communities which have not been noted for their collaboration ‘over the past thousand years’. As the management of the nominated buildings is shared between three religious organisations, collaboration between them is essential of progress is to be made with conservation and repair.

The main symptom of the lack of maintenance and conservation is the present state of conservation of the Church of the Nativity. As the Technical Expert confirmed, although these are grave, they are also longstanding, and nothing that has been found during the recent extensive surveys of the roof undertaken by an international consortium has led them to conclude that the roof is in such danger that emergency measures such as scaffolding or other supports are needed.

The nomination dossier also makes clear that active measures to address the roof problems in the Church of the Nativity are about to start, based on the extensive recent studies and other progress has been made over the past few years. First and foremost this progress has been made possible by the Presidential Decree which has brought together the church authorities to such effect that a Committee has been set up to take forward repairs to the church roof which will be funded by the Palestine authorities. The vulnerability of the roof of the Church of the Nativity is now being addressed in the best way possible through the concerted efforts of the main parties.

In conclusion, ICOMOS does not consider that the property can be considered to have been severely damaged or to be under imminent threat. ICOMOS does not consider that there is ‘any immediate action’ that could be taken by the Committee that ‘is necessary for the survival of the property’.

8 Conclusions

ICOMOS considers that the nomination should be resubmitted for the normal assessment process and that this could provide the opportunity for a full assessment of the needs of the property in terms of protection, conservation and management.
ICOMOS further considers that although the current assessment has highlighted the need for work to be undertaken on the roof of the Church of the Nativity in the short term, it has also pointed up the need for this work to be guided by a Conservation Strategy that could synthesize the conclusions of the detailed investigative reports into a clear statement of the significances of the various elements within a comprehensive conservation philosophy for the proposed work.
What has also emerged is the need for better management of visitors, as the exceptionally high number of people within the Church of the Nativity at any one time is impacting adversely on its conservation of the fabric, and the provision of facilities for visitors are impacting adversely on the fabric of the surrounding town.

What further emerges from the nomination dossier is the very strong inter-relationship between the property and the historic city, a symbiotic relationship that has grown up since the time the first church was built in the 4th century.
This relationship is threatened by inappropriate development and lack of control of traffic and tourism that is altogether impacting on the context of the churches in terms of views, but perhaps more importantly their sense of place and their spiritual associations. The current nomination puts forward only the church and its monastic complex, with a small part of the pilgrimage route and an open area to the east.

ICOMOS considers that a revised nomination could allow consideration of these issues:
of a Conservation Plan, wider boundaries, and visitor management, and of how the optimum supporting structures for the property might be put in place.

The State Party states that it is planning to nominate the Historic Town of Bethlehem as a second phase of a serial nomination, and that further phases would include the Historic Town of Beit Sahour, the Shepherds’ Field, Beit Sahour, and the Mar Saba Monastery in the Desert to the east. The link between these sites will be their association with the story of the birth and life of Jesus.

In terms of a potential serial nomination, ICOMOS would like to draw attention to the requirements of the Operational guidelines as set out in paragraph 137:
Component parts should reflect cultural, social or functional links over time that provide, where relevant, landscape, ecological, evolutionary or habitat connectivity. Each component part should contribute to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property as a whole in a substantial, scientific, readily defined and discernible way, and may include, inter alia, intangible attributes.

The resulting Outstanding Universal Value should be easily understood and communicated. On the basis of information so far provided, ICOMOS does not consider that the proposal as put forward by the State Party for a serial nomination of places associated with the birth and life of Jesus would meet these conditions. The World Heritage Committee has indicated on several occasions that the link between component sites of a serial nomination should not be one person. ICOMOS thus
suggests that this approach should be re-considered.

Recommendations with respect to inscription

ICOMOS does not consider that the conditions required by paragraph 161 of the Operational Guidelines are fully met, concerning damage or serious and specific dangers to the Church of the Nativity that make its condition an emergency that needs to be addressed by the World Heritage Committee with immediate action necessary for the survival of the property.

ICOMOS recommends that the Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route, Bethlehem, Palestine should not be inscribed on the World Heritage List on an emergency basis.

ICOMOS encourages the State Party to resubmit the nomination in accordance with normal procedures for nomination, to allow a proper assessment of integrity, authenticity, and conservation, and proper consideration of management arrangements and of the appropriate boundaries for the property, in relation to its links with the surrounding town.

ICOMOS also recommends that the international community be encouraged to facilitate the conservation of the property.
ICOMOS further recommends, on the basis of the information so far provided, that this nomination should not be considered as being the first nomination of a serial property of sites that reflect the birth and life of Jesus and encourages the State Party re-consider this approach.

ICOMOS would be ready and willing to offer such support as may be appropriate, as part of the upstream advice processes.

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