Interfaith Peace Initiative
Bethlehem PowerPoint Presentations:http://www.openbethlehem.org/ - Bethlehem Today and the Annexation of Rachel's Tomb. (download)
Bethlehem Map: For a map of the Wall in Bethlehem, please see http://stopthewall.org/maps/857.shtml
Bethlehem Photos: (See especially photo of an Israeli settlement in the Bethlehem area, built where a majestic pine forest once stood. http://www.vtjp.org/images/harhomawithfencelg.jpg)
- A personal remembrance
Bethlehem today is imprisoned and impoverished, subject to the same ethnic cleansing and land theft that plague the rest of the West Bank. Israel has divided Bethlehem with a wall, annexing Bethlehem land and confiscating Rachel's Tomb. It has built one illegal settlement after another on Bethlehem land. The process of dispossession and division continues, and threatens the Christian and Muslim presence in the town of Christ's birth, where for centuries the two communities have lived in peace.
I was there in 2004, and was sickened to see the menacing three story concrete wall cutting through the town I had pictured as a quaint reminder of Biblical times. In fact, many people in Bethlehem and the West Bank descended from Christ's earliest followers and have lived there for thousands of years. Now they suffer alongside their Muslim neighbors as Israeli bulldozers destroy everything in the path of expanding Jewish settlements and the wall.
I met a lovely Bethlehem couple at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Jerusalem. They had awakened one morning to find their view of the valley blocked by a stark grey wall, as cranes had worked overnight to put the sections in place. They invited me to come with them to their parents' hilltop farm on the outskirts of Bethlehem, less than 6 miles away. It is a breathtaking spot, purchased by their great grandfather when he came to the area as a Christian evangelist in the early 1900's. Surrounding it on three sides are Israeli settlements. On the farm I saw evidence of an attack by settlers the preceding year. They had destroyed 300 olive trees and burst the family's water tower, telling them to leave, because this was the settlers’ promised land.
We walked among sycamore and fig trees, and saw the cave where the grandfather had lived when he first came to this region. The family is using the farm now as a retreat center and summer camp, hosting Christians from around the world in an effort to keep Israel from confiscating this land too. I promised them that I would tell Americans what is happening.
At all the holy sites I visited, I met people who were shocked at the silence of American Christians as the Holy Land is being destroyed. They could not imagine that in our society where free speech is protected, most people have no idea what is happening to them. As members of the Body of Christ in the larger world, these Palestinians are calling out for Americans of every faith to listen.
Not the Bethlehem of Our Thoughts
Catholic Property Seized
According to a Catholic web site, Israel is building a wall through the homes and land of Catholics in Bethlehem and The Holy Land separating the Way of the Cross. It is confiscating Catholic Church property, including land used by a Catholic orphanage, and is denying the Church's right to a court hearing to challenge the taking of Catholic Church property. (http://www.culturalcatholic.com/Bethlehem.htm)
Memories of Bethlehem
Dec 25, 2006
This article was originally published by the Palestine News Network. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a friend of IPI members. He is a Connecticut-based medical geneticist who has taught at Duke and Yale and was born in Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem.
It is at Christmastime that the sometimes-
beautiful and sometimes-poignant childhood memories of Bethlehem haunt me
and other Palestinian Christians most vividly.
I am saddened when I see how Bethlehem has been
transformed. A once-thriving community is stifled, isolated and desperate.
Tourism has plummeted, jobs are scarce and Christian Palestinian families
are leaving. At Christmastime, typically a period of joy and hope, this grim
reality hits especially hard.
Israel's Purging of Palestinian Christians
By JONATHAN COOK
January 9, 2007
"....Foreign visitors can leave, while Bethlehem's Palestinians are now sealed into their ghetto. As long as these Palestinian cities are not turned into death camps, the West appears ready to turn a blind eye. Mere concentration camps, it seems, are acceptable...."
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of the forthcoming "Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State" published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the University of Michigan Press. His website is www.jkcook.net
Latest News, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall CampaignNovember 7th, 2006
As Occupation bulldozers continue to devastate fields in South Bethlehem,
the farmers in Jurat ash-Shama have stood up in defense of their livelihoods
in spontaneous protests.
June 15th, 2006 by admin ( )
On the left is the Church of the Nativity where Palestinian Christians
worship. Across the square is Omar's Mosque where Palestinian Muslims pray.
Palestinian Christians say the bill masks the real problem in Palestine: The Israeli occupation
By Gale Courey Toensing
In the spring of 2002 when Israeli Occupation Forces laid siege with tanks, machine guns and other weapons of targeted destruction to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, there was not a squeak of protest from Congress about protecting Palestinian Christians and the holy places of Christianity.
Now, in a triple whammy attempt to demonize Muslims, destroy Hamas, and pit Palestinian Muslims against Palestinian Christians, cynics and hypocrites in the House of Representatives are hawking a bill that purports to be based on concern about the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.
Hamas, readers will recall, is the political party that won an overwhelming majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority, Palestine’s legislature. Both Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims voted en masse for Hamas in a democratic election that former President Jimmy Carter, an election monitor, described in the Herald Tribune, as “honest, fair, strongly contested, without violence and with the results accepted by winners and losers.”
The results, however, did not please the Bush administration, which has labeled Hamas as a “terrorist organization,” or Congress, which is only too willing to be swayed by the powerful Israel lobby that puts a lot of money in members' campaign coffers, and targets for defeat any elected official who dares to speak out against Israel's policies.
The House of Representative's resolution, called “Condemning the Persecution of Palestinian Christians by the Palestinian Authority,” was authored by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.). “Palestinian Authority” has become the code word for “Hamas.”
The bill is nothing less than a racist screed against Palestinian Muslims – and, by extension, Muslims everywhere. And, in formulating their baseless allegations, McCaul and Crowley do exactly what they accuse Palestinian Muslims of doing: They incite violence and religious hatred against Muslims and Islam.
In psychology, that kind of neurotic behavior is called projection.
The resolution alleges that the PA uses “violent rhetoric” which has “increased incitement toward Palestinian Christian communities; that “Islamic law” puts Christians at a disadvantage judicially; that Christians “are forced to follow Islamic law in public or face arrest by Palestinian Authority police”; and that the PA violates Christians’ human rights.
It also claims that the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat “gerrymandered the municipal boundaries” of Bethlehem to include more Muslims. This allegation is laughable for two reasons: The 2006 general elections were the first to be held since 1996 and no “redistricting” took place in the interim. And the allegation may indicate a serious case of irony deficiency in McCaul, a member of the Texas legislature, which, led by indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, redistricted Texas to gain Republican voters.
The specious allegations go on and on: Muslims “effectively cleansed” Christians from the government; denied them jobs; forced them to pay extra taxes. “Muslim extremists and criminals” “vandalize and desecrate internationally-recognized holy sites and cemeteries” with impunity; rape and sexually harass Christian women; force Christians to leave the country.
The resolution is one more assault against the Hamas government and the pitifully battered Palestinian people, whose only “crimes” are to insist on their national, civil and human rights, and to have had the nerve to democratically elect a government that is not to the liking of President Bush, the Israel lobby, and its supporters in Congress.
The US-led aid boycott and restrictions that have been in place for more than three months are now pushing the population to the brink of starvation, according to humanitarian and human rights organizations. The recently House-approved, hideously-named “Palestinian Anti-Terrorist Act,” which passed by a lopsided vote of 361 to 37, was so draconian that even the Bush administration opposed it.
McCaul’s and Crowley’s allegations are demonstrably not true, of course. What is so appalling is Congress’s utter ignorance of history and of what is actually happening on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza, and their total indifference to the suffering of millions of ordinary Palestinian men, women, and children. There is no mention in McCaul’s and Crowley’s resolution of Israel’s ongoing brutal occupation of Palestinian lands – an equal opportunity violation of several international laws that oppresses Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike.
Open Bethlehem, a nonprofit international project created in 2005 to save the city of Bethlehem, says the resolution is “grossly misleading” and misrepresents the reality of all Palestinians’ lives. The organization has its headquarters inside Bethlehem University with offices in London and Washington.
On June 13, Open Bethlehem CEO Leila Sansour wrote to each member of Congress, urging them not to sign the bill.
“We are encouraged by the latest interest of Congress in the plight of the world’s oldest Christian community,” Sansour wrote.
“We are, however, disappointed by the latest resolution drafted by congressmen McCaul and congressman Crowley purporting to act on our behalf… The resolution seriously misrepresents the situation facing Christians in the Holy Land… The resolution grossly misleads the Congress as to the real threat that faces our community,” Sansour wrote.
While it is true that 357 Christian families – 10 percent of the Christian population – have emigrated from Bethlehem between the years 2000-2004, Sansour said, it is not Palestinian Muslims who are driving them out.
“This flight is primarily a result of the fear generated by repeated Israeli military incursions, and has been exacerbated by the economic devastation of Bethlehem due to the Israel closure imposed on the city,” Sansour said.
The Apartheid Wall, Israel’s newest and perhaps most perverse expression of unrestrained power, symbolizes Israel’s military occupation and control over all Palestinians, regardless of their religion.
“Perhaps the Israeli barrier is most emblematic of the shared fate of both Muslims and Christian Palestinians. The Bethlehem barrier winding in and around our city consists mainly of 25-fott high slabs of concrete, sniper towers, and remote-controlled infantry positions. It is built on privately-owned Palestinian land, resulting in the loss of most of Bethlehem’s fertile and economically prosperous agricultural lands and many of our major landmarks. . . It has also severed our city from Jerusalem, a city with which we have historically enjoyed interdependent kinship, trade, and social relations,” Sansour said.
The aim of Open Bethlehem, Sansour said, “is to ensure that our community survives in the birthplace of Christianity, as part of a diverse, multi-faith society that will be an essential pillar of an open and democratic Middle East.”
Sansour notes that the resolution was written without consulting Christians living in Palestine or local Christian organizations. In asking members of Congress to reject the resolution, she also urges them of form a fact-finding mission to Bethlehem in August “to learn first hand about the challenges that we face.”
If you are concerned – or outraged – by Congress’s willingness to impose more suffering on the powerless Palestinian population, contact your representatives and other elected officials and tell them to vote against this shameful piece of legislation. Use http://congress.cfl-online.org/
the Apartheid Wall
Each year before Christmas, believers and activists alike take the occasion to raise awareness about the occupation of Palestine, in particular its devastating effects on Bethlehem.
This year, the Sacred Heart Catholic church in St Ives, UK, has cancelled its famous Christmas ”Live Crib” event. Instead of actors reenacting Christmas night, a life-size replica of the Apartheid Wall has been constructed in front of the church bearing protest banners and photographs showing the reality of Israeli occupation. (See full press release below.)
In addition, large protest banners and stark photographs will stand alongside the ‘wall’ to show passers-by how desperate and ugly the situation is in the Holy Land.
Father Paul is confident that the people of St Ives will want to express their support for these people at Christmas. “The lives of the ordinary citizens of Bethlehem have been devastated by the building of the wall. It affects every aspect of their lives: friends and family are separated, earning a living becomes more and more difficult, and access to health care is severely restricted in the town of Bethlehem, which we sing about at this time of the year. If we can provide these people with a few extra basic provisions and give them a little financial support, we can help make their lives more bearable.”
• The wall will be approximately 30 ft high.
• It will be erected on Friday 15th December, and will be taken down on Wednesday 27th December.
• Father Paul Maddison and some parishioners, who have visited and seen the wall, will be available for interview at 10 am on Friday 15th outside the church as the wall is being erected.
• Donations to help alleviate the suffering of the citizens of Bethlehem can be put through the letter box of the Catholic Presbytery, 19 Needingworth Road, St Ives
• People wishing to donate are also invited to send donations via: Holy Land 2003, PO Box 140, St Ives PE27 9AP (cheques made payable to Holy Land 2006)
• All donations will be used to provide food and medical assistance to the citizens of Bethlehem.
The Church of the Sacred Heart in St Ives is twinned with the Catholic parish in Aboud Village on the West Bank. Since 2003, Father Maddison, along with groups from St Ives and other places in East Anglia, has made regular visits to take donations and lend support to the Aboud villagers, who are Christians and Muslims. He has seen first-hand the suffering and increasingly worsening plight of the families who live there.
The concrete wall has been built though farmland and villages:
• wrecking livelihoods that depend on farming the ‘stolen’ land,
• making daily life a misery for those people who have to cross the wall to go to work
• costing the lives of patients who have sought urgent medical attention on the ‘other side’, only to be delayed unnecessarily
• causing untold poverty to thousands, who cannot raise enough money to feed, clothe and educate their families.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND INTERVIEWS
Contact: Father Paul Maddison, Parish Priest
Telephone: 01480 462192
Address: Sacred Heart RC Church, 19 Needingworth Road, St Ives, Cambs
Fight Erupts in D.C. Over Plight of Palestinian Christians | Fri. Jun 23, 2006
WASHINGTON — A battle has erupted on Capitol Hill over who should be blamed for the plight of Palestinian Christians: Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
All sides agree that the Christian community in the West Bank faces existential threats and is dwindling, from 20% of the population 50 years to about 1.5% today. They bitterly disagree, however, about who should be held responsible for the decline.
Some argue that the continuing burden of Israel’s occupation is the main culprit; others contend that it is the Palestinian Authority that is mainly responsible, because it allegedly engages in religious discrimination and turns a blind eye to the harassment and persecution of Christians.
The debate itself is not new. Israel and some of its advocates in the United States have in the past fended off accusations regarding the negative impact on Christians of Israeli policies in the West Bank by arguing that intra-Palestinian tensions play a more decisive role in pushing Palestinian Christians to leave the territories. This time around, however, the tussle is taking place on Capitol Hill, with Palestinian Christian activists and their backers attempting to rally the White House for help, and pro-Israel forces trying to leverage government support through legislation.
The battle erupted last month, when the powerful chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, sent a letter to President Bush, warning that “Israeli actions [in the West Bank] seem to go beyond the realm of legitimate security concerns and have negative consequences on communities and lands under their [sic] occupation.” Hyde wrote that while America should support Israel’s self-defense, it is “important that United States’ support for Israel not be perceived as involving the affirmation of injustice.”
Days after the letter was sent, an aide to Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, drafted a resolution blasting the P.A. over the plight of Christians in the territories. The resolution, which makes no attempt to place any degree of blame on Israel, calls on the president and the secretary of state “to address the condition of minorities under Palestinian Authority rule in order to save from destruction the oldest Christian community in the world.” It also urges the State Department to “investigate and report on the extent of human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority” against Palestinian Christians.
American and Palestinian Christians say that they were not consulted about the proposed resolution. They also point out that it was drafted with the help of an Israeli lawyer, and they say that the current version of the text is marked by distortions and misinformation.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat, also sponsors the resolution. So far, staffers for Crowley and McCaul — both members of the House International Relations Committee, chaired by Hyde — have recruited more than 20 co-sponsors, including the chair of the House’s subcommittee on the Middle East and the lead candidate to succeed Hyde, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and the committee’s minority leader, Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat.
Opponents of the resolution, including Christian groups in the United States and in the West Bank, say that the two congressional aides who prepared the bill, Ari Stein of McCaul’s office and Gregg Sheiowitz of Crowley’s office, never consulted any American Christian groups or activists who assist Palestinian Christians. Nor did they talk to any Palestinian Christians, critics said.
The two staffers refused to talk with the Forward on the record, but congressional aides familiar with the bill confirmed that no Christian groups or activists — whether in America or in the West Bank — were consulted. After the two circulated the draft resolution and a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members, urging them to co-sponsor the bill, several American Christian groups, including the Conference of Catholic Bishops, called and met with Crowley and McCaul’s staffers, protesting the resolution and the manner in which it was drafted.
Opponents contend that the factual basis of the legislation is flawed. For example, they challenged the bill’s claims that “Palestinian Christians are forced to follow Islamic law in public or face arrest by Palestinian Authority police”; that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority’s late president, and his supporters “effectively cleansed the [P.A.’s] bureaucracy of Christians”; that “Palestinian Christians are denied jobs in state-run organizations”; that “Palestinian Christians are accused of being Israeli and American collaborators and are interrogated and imprisoned without reason”; that the Palestinian police do not respond to harassment complaints made by Palestinian Christians, and that the unpunished violence toward Christians “has led to a significant increase in pervasive sexual harassment and rape.”
Daphne Tsimhoni, a professor at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and a leading scholar on Christian minorities in the Middle East, told the Forward that almost all the bill’s assertions are either exaggerations, misrepresentations or sheer fabrications.
The aides to McCaul and Crowley told fellow congressional staffers that their main source of information was several reports and articles by Justus Reid Weiner, an Israeli lawyer. Weiner works for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-of-center think-tank. Dore Gold, who was a political adviser to former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and previously served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, directs the center.
Weiner has written extensively in the past about human rights violations of Christians in the West Bank, faulting the Palestinian society and the Palestinian government for their plight. Some scholars, including Tsimhoni, Palestinian Christians and American Christian groups, have challenged his research. Congressional aides closely familiar with the legislation said that Weiner helped draft the bill. Weiner confirmed to the Forward that he had “seen a draft [of the bill] at one point or another.”
Palestinian Christians and pro-Palestinian activists say that although there may have been isolated incidents of harassment of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims, and although Palestinian Christians are concerned by the rise to power of militant Islamists in the West Bank, the attempt to portray these phenomena as a systematic pattern of persecution of Christians by the P.A. is absurd.
“This, to me, is like trying to drown a fish in water,” said Afif Safieh, who heads the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to Washington. Safieh, a Roman Catholic with scores of relatives in the West Bank, said that the incidents of which he is aware are ones that can be attributed to “lawlessness from which the entire population suffers.” He added that the PLO always has been “extremely open-minded and fair toward the Christian community.”
Christians, he said, are overrepresented in the Palestinian political system and in the P.A.’s bureaucracy. He added that, despite his political differences with the ruling militant Hamas organization, he must admit that the Islamist movement has not taken any steps to discriminate against Christians and has not imposed Islamic law.
“Hamas has not annoyed or disturbed Palestinian Christians,” he said.
Pressure by pro-Palestinian groups to “nip this legislation in the bud,” in the words of James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, is showing some signs of success.
Congressional aides familiar with the legislation say that the bill’s drafters now realize they erred by not consulting Christian groups, and that their resolution may contain some factual errors. They pointed out that the bill is still in draft form and has not yet been submitted. Its sponsors intend to do so soon.
They said that comments by church groups as well as by pro-Palestinian activists could be taken into account to address inaccuracies before final language is submitted.
The dispute over Palestinian Christians is now playing out over another piece of legislation. Critics of Israel’s West Bank policies are blocking a resolution pushed by the Orthodox Union, marking the 39th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. The same critics object to an assertion in the bill, which says that Jerusalem is “a unified city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.”
The question of whether Palestinian Christians have the freedom to access their places of worship in and around Jerusalem is of particular concern to Hyde.
Hyde attached a copy of a report prepared by his staff to his May 19 letter to Bush, documenting the alleged impact of Israel’s security barrier in and around Christian population centers, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The report was based on a series of visits by Hyde’s staff to Israel and the West Bank over the past two years. Specifically, the report talks about sections of the barrier being built on Palestinian Christian land, the inability of Palestinian Christians to access their places of worship because of Israeli travel restrictions, and the Israeli government’s backing of aggressive attempts by militant Jewish settlers to move into the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and into other predominantly Christian parts of Jerusalem.
Hyde’s letter was private, but it became very public when syndicated columnist Robert Novak quoted from it extensively in a May 23 column. Novak has written about the issue in the past, but this column was particularly embarrassing for several reasons, Israeli diplomats said. It came as American Christian groups were discussing divestment from Israel to protest its policies in the West Bank. It also was sent days before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Washington. Novak suggested in his column that the issue be discussed during Olmert’s White House meeting with the president. According to sources close to Olmert, it was not; however, in recent weeks the White House has expressed interest in Hyde’s report. Earlier this month, a senior official in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office met with Hyde’s staffers and promised to follow up on the matter.