U.S. President Barack Obama plans to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity during his visit to the Middle East next week. The church is widely known for being the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders confirmed that Obama would visit the church—which is under the auspices of the PA—during his three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, which begins on March 20, according to AFP.
While in Israel, Obama is also expected to visit the Israel Museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and the Shrine of the Book. In addition to meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama will be shown an Iron Dome missile defense system installation, Israel National News reported.
Obama is scheduled to speak at Israel’s Binyanei Ha’uma (Israel Convention Center), visit the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, and lay a wreath on the tombs of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin on Mount Herzl. He is also expected to meet with opposition representative and Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
The visit to the Church of the Nativity will take place toward the end of Obama’s visit. In the summer of 2012, the church was added to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of sites in danger. UNESCO cited water damage and other necessary repairs to recognize it the church as a “World Heritage Site.”
Palestinians interpreted the church’s new designation as a confirmation of their right to the land, with Hanan Ashrawi, a leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, issuing a statement calling the decision “a welcome recognition by the international community of our historical and cultural rights in this land.”
But the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said at the time, “The world needs to remember that the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christianity, has been desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists.”