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Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
18 April 1996
OPI/NYO/96 - 4E
18 April 1996

UNESSCO LAUNCHES PROJECT TO RENOVATE BETHLEHEM

Paris, 18 April - To commemorate the approaching 2000th anniversary of the Nativity in Bethlehem, UNESCO, the Palestinian Authority and the Municipality of Bethlehem will unveil a major project this Sunday to restore this historic city of universal significance.

Known as Bethlehem 2000, the $2.26 million four-year project seeks to renovate the old city, restore its religious and historical monuments and highlight its contributions to civilisation. The opening at 3 p.m. 21 April of a photographic exhibit of this city's churches, 18th century homes and dilapidated market-place at the University of Bethlehem will inaugurate this project. In addition, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor will issue an appeal to the international community to back the project marking the debut of the Organization's promotional action for the rehabilitation and conservation of Bethlehem.

"As a pilot project, Bethlehem 2000 is also a chance to highlight, through an urban policy, some of the issues of culture, tourism and the economy which mark the rebirth of a society, and thereby place a new milestone on the road to a culture of peace in the Middle East," Mr Mayor says in the forward to the exhibit's catalogue.

This ancient city is not only the cradle of Christianity. Its vestiges date back to the Bronze Age. Rachel, Jacob's wife, is buried here. David, the King of Israel, was born here in the 10th century BC. Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Ottomans have swept through its narrow stone streets.

Today, Bethlehem, 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem, is an over-built town of about 35,000 inhabitants, mostly Palestinian Christians. It is the victim of urban sprawl, pollution and the destructive effects of time and poverty. Telegraph poles, barbed wire and billboards disfigure the landscape. Tourist buses clog Manger Square.

Bethlehem 2000 plans to renovate the old town-centre to attract tourists and create jobs. The establishment of a workshop for the conservation and development of cultural heritage is another priority for Bethlehem's renaissance.

At UNESCO-sponsored workshops, students from Al Najah and Bir Zeit Universities and the Paris-Belleville School of Architecture have outlined the old town's limits and identified five preliminary projects: redesigning the Square of the Nativity, restoring the central market, and building a new bus station, car park and low-cost housing. Their drawings, photographs and surveys will also be displayed at the exhibit.

The roving exhibit is a compendium of 80 photographs of Bethlehem's brightest treasures and bleakest corners. It is part of UNESCO's action to raise public awareness and financial support for Bethlehem 2000. After Bethlehem, the exhibit will travel to Haifa, Cairo, Athens, Rome, Tunis, Warsaw and other cities.

Bethlehem 2000 is one of 27 projects of the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, established jointly by UNESCO and the Palestinian Authority last year. Valued at US$37 million, these projects emphasise five objectives: the development of Palestinian institutions in UNESCO's fields of competence; utilisation of human resources, job creation; consolidation of the Middle East peace process and the building of a modern society in former occupied territories.

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