An Israeli flag flies over the museum and adjacent ruins of ancient pilgrim hostels, asserting Israel’s control of the site, which is traditionally identified as the location of the inn mentioned in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.
But now, after more than 40 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians are making a bid for greater control of the West Bank’s historical and archaeological landmarks, which they are claiming as their own.
Last month’s vote by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to admit Palestine as a member has boosted efforts by Palestinian officials to gain the agency’s World Heritage List designation for sites in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has also raised expectations of greater international support for preservation efforts in the areas that Palestinians seek for a future state.
“The full recognition of Palestine as a member of UNESCO opens new horizons for the protection of cultural heritage in Palestine,” said Hamdan Taha, director of the department of antiquities and cultural heritage in the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. “There is new momentum now for the World Heritage issue in Palestinian society.”
Early this year, the Palestinians nominated Bethlehem and its Church of the Nativity, venerated as the birthplace of Jesus, for recognition as a World Heritage site, an application that can now be considered with Palestine’s status as a UNESCO member state. Bethlehem is under control of the Palestinian Authority.
Taha said preparations are underway to nominate the old city of Hebron, an area under Israeli control that includes the compound known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque. The shrine is regarded in Jewish and Muslim tradition as the burial place of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives.
Similar efforts are being made to nominate the Palestinian-controlled ancient city of Jericho, Taha said.
Designation as a World Heritage site brings with it funding and technical and training assistance, in addition to promotional help from UNESCO for the maintenance and preservation of the recognized landmark. It can also heighten international interest and help develop local expertise in the conservation and management of such sites.
But the disputed political future of the West Bank has made heritage preservation a point of contention.
For decades, Israel’s military government in the West Bank, known as the Civil Administration, has conducted archaeological surveys and excavations in the territory, carrying out what it says is its mandate under international conventions to protect and preserve the antiquities in the area.