Why UNESCO Recognition of the Church of Nativity Shouldn't Worry Israel

When UNESCO awarded Bethlehem's Church of Nativity World Heritage status, it made the Palestinians happy and prompted Israel to pull a long face.

Like the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its decline - when, in its death throes, it proclaimed its glory by awarding gilded tin medals of honor and titles of "baron" to all and sundry - now UNESCO, the United Nations organization in charge of world culture, is filling the planet with so-called World Heritage sites. Several of these places - such as Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon, in the United States - are breathtakingly beautiful, with or without UNESCO's seal of approval.

On the other hand, there are several such sites that are ugly, devoid of charm or uniqueness, where the visitor lifts his eyes and wonders what tasteless mind could have wanted to commemorate such a hole.

Every day I walk through one of these accumulations of colossal ugliness, to which UNESCO awarded the tin medal of a World Heritage site, failing to understand. I'm talking about my hometown, Tel Aviv. About 100 kilometers north of that, UNESCO awarded a tin medal to Acre, another hopeless historic garbage pile.

In Germany several of the Bauhaus buildings in the city of Dessau have been declared World Heritage sites. A while ago my eldest son visited that city and sought them out. In the end he phoned to tell me that the building that is considered the height of this architectural style reminds him of Ostrovsky High School in Ra'anana, which he attended. Never mind: At this rate, Ra'anana will also receive the status of a World Heritage site.

The city of Dresden in Germany was declared such a site, as were landscapes along the Elbe River. A short time later, the title was taken away from them as a punishment for the construction of a bridge and an expressway, which don't exactly blend into the historic landscape. Since the punishment was meted out, by the way, there are actually far more tourists visiting Dresden than in the past.

All this is being said because at the beginning of last week UNESCO awarded the same gilded tin medal to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which as we know is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. This made the Palestinians happy and was recognized in the press as a "victory" for them, whereas Israel automatically pulled a long face and claimed that awarding the title to a site in Palestine constitutes an act of defiance against it, and indicates that UNESCO is motivated by political rather than purely aesthetic considerations.

For a moment it seemed that the issue would develop into a real conflict, which would require the world to reconsider the judgment of the committee that awards the World Heritage site title to anyone who asks. But soon some hidden power dampened the enthusiasm, and removed the affair from Israel's agenda.

The fact that the committee that grants World Heritage site status is apparently suffering from blindness and has lost its sense of taste and smell, has been discussed before. From a purely artistic standpoint nobody will deny that the Church of the Nativity is nothing more than a mass of separate spaces, which is in fact characteristic of the wild and chaotic construction in Israel that has made Tel Aviv as ugly as it is.

From the historical aspect, too, you have to have particularly benighted opinions in order to really and truly believe that this is the site of the precise stable where the Virgin Mary gave birth, and that the gilded star kissed by the Christian pilgrims who visit the place is the same famous Star of Bethlehem that appeared in the sky and heralded the birth of the savior.

In other words, there is a great deal of justice to Israel's claim that the decision to grant World Heritage status to the Church of the Nativity was not made in good faith, but out of extraneous considerations. In that case, and on the contrary: Let Israel lead a move that will call for cleaning up the UNESCO stables. Let us call to have the minutes opened and the corruption exposed.

But wait a minute. Take it easy. That's liable to cut off the branch we're sitting on. Because then the protocols are liable to reveal to the eyes of astonished humanity that several of the Israeli garbage cans (Tel Aviv, for example ... but don't tell anyone ) that were declared World Heritage sites, and to which naive tourists came in droves over the years and were taken on guided tours, are indeed nothing more than piles of junk.

This UNESCO committee, if it is forced to behave according to pure and objective standards, is also liable, oy vey, to rescind the title it granted to these sites and others, which have been made even uglier than they were before, thanks to the authorities responsible for their preservation. That's why silence is golden.

Let Palestine enjoy the crowded stable called the Church of the Nativity and let it think that it's the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and we'll be left with the piles of balconies with broken shutters in our city of Tel Aviv, and we'll think that this ugliness is really and truly historic. Because here, in this stable, which looks like a stable and smells like a stable, the Bauhaus gave birth.