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Thread: Bethlehem A 'Prison' - The Pope's Representative In Israel

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Bethlehem A 'Prison' - The Pope's Representative In Israel

    Bethlehem a 'prison' - patriarch


    Israel's most senior Roman Catholic leader has said Bethlehem has become an "immense prison" since the erection of the West Bank barrier.

    Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, called for all barriers between people to be dismantled.

    He was joined by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, ambassadors from several countries and thousands of Christians for Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem.

    Israel says the barrier is defensive, but Palestinians see it as a land grab.

    'Bridges of peace'
    The patriarch, who is the pope's representative in the Holy Land, called for the barrier to be removed and said "bridges of peace and love" should be built instead.

    He defended the rights of Palestinians to have their own homeland and live free of occupation.

    But he said those who held power had to realise that they could not rule through violence, but only by winning the hearts of both Palestinians and Israelis.

    "Nobody needs checkpoints in the Holy Land," he said, according to Israel Radio.

    Mr Abbas, participating for the first time in Christmas celebrations since his election as Palestinian Authority president in January, said his people were "seeking a bridge to peace instead of Israeli walls".

    Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Christian leaders with Christmas greetings and expressed his hope that the new year would bring peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.

    "We all need it and I intend to make every effort to reach it," he said in a statement.

    Choirs and bunting
    A ceasefire in place between Israel and most Palestinian militants has brought in many more visitors than last year.

    Some 30,000 tourists were expected to visit Bethlehem over the Christmas weekend - about 10,000 more than last year.

    Israeli officials said about 7,000 tourists had already gathered in the city by Saturday evening.

    Israel has built a new crossing point in the eight-metre- (25ft-) high concrete barrier to enable thousands of foreign visitors to pass into Bethlehem.

    Throughout the day choirs, marching bands and bagpipe players entertained the crowds, before they gathered in Manger Square to watch a procession led by the patriarch.

    Christmas lights, bunting and lines of fluttering Palestinian flags created a sense of cheer despite the sombre political background.

    The BBC's Dan Damon in Bethlehem says many Christian pilgrims braved heavy wind and rain to wait outside the Church of the Nativity to celebrate Midnight Mass.

    But he says there is still tension, with Palestinians complaining about the lack of jobs and frequent arrest raids by Israeli troops.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Partridge Guest
    Separated by a wall at Christmas
    By Firas Aridah, The San Diego Union-Tribune
    As a parish priest in the West Bank village of Aboud, my Christmas preparations include recording the identity card numbers of my parishioners to request permits from the Israeli authorities to allow us travel to Bethlehem.

    Some may be denied permits and prevented from worshipping there. While decorating our church for the joyous birth of Our Lord, we also prepare banners for the next protest against the wall that Israel began to build on our village's land one month ago.

    Aboud is nestled among terraced olive groves in the West Bank west of the city of Ramallah. The village has 2,200 residents. Nine hundred of them are Christian. Within the village are seven ancient churches. The oldest dates to the third century. We believe that Jesus passed through Aboud on the Roman road from the Galilee to Jerusalem.

    The wall that Israel is building through Aboud is not for the security of Israel. It is for the security of illegal Israeli settlements.

    The Israeli government continues to falsely claim that it is building the wall on Israeli land, but Aboud lies 3.75 miles inside the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. The wall will cut off 1,100 acres of our land for two illegal Israeli settlements.

    Sometimes the Israelis give special treatment to Christians. Sometimes they give Christians permits to go through checkpoints while they stop Muslims. They do this to try to separate us, but in reality we Muslims and Christians are brothers.

    Our church organist Yousef told me, "Some foreigners believe that Islam is the greatest danger for Palestinian Christians rather than Israel's occupation. This is Israeli propaganda. Israel wants to tell the world that it protects us from the Muslims, but it is not true. In Aboud, we Muslims and Christians live a normal, peaceful life together.

    "Last week our village celebrated the Feast of Saint Barbara for our patron saint whose shrine outside our village was damaged by the Israeli military in 2002. We invited the Muslims to share the traditional feast of Saint Barbara. They also invite us to share their traditional Ramadan evening meal. We have good relations. Muslims are peaceful people."

    With signs, songs and prayers, our village has been protesting against Israel's apartheid wall every week. Through peaceful demonstrations and the planting of olive trees, we want to tell the Israelis and the international community that we are against Israel taking our lands. We are working for peace here, but still the Israeli soldiers have attacked our peaceful protests with clubs, sound bombs, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.

    On Dec. 11, we were honored with a visit to Aboud by the highest Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. Patriarch Sabbah, a Palestinian, planted an olive tree on the planned route of the wall, and told 1,000 peaceful protesters, "The wall doesn't benefit the security of either Israel or anybody else. Our prayers are for the removal of this physical wall currently under construction and the return of our lands."

    "Our hearts are filled with love, and no hatred for anybody. With our faith and love, we demand the removal of this wall. We affirm that it is a mistake and an attack against our lands and our properties, and an attack against friendly relationships between the two people."

    "In your faith and your love you shall find a guide for your political action and your resistance against every oppression. You may say that love is an unknown language to politics, but love is possible in spite of all the evil we experience. We shall make it possible!"

    Just after Patriarch Sabbah left, an Israeli protesting with us was arrested by Israeli soldiers as he planted an olive tree. We have good Israeli friends. We do not say that every Israeli soldier is bad, because they are just soldiers following orders.

    Yes, there are Palestinian Christians here in Aboud, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza. We are the Salt of the Earth.

    My religion tells me that I have to love everybody and accept everybody without conditions.

    We have here good Jewish people, good Muslims and good Christians. We can live together. This is the Holy Land.

    If we in Aboud can send a message to the world this Christmas, it is that Jews, Christians and Muslims have to live together in peace.

    Aridah is a Jordanian priest serving the Roman Catholic Holy Mary Mother of Sorrows Church in the village of Aboud in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. He can be reached via e-mail at

  3. #3
    Partridge Guest
    Thousands Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem

    Associated Press Writer BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- A steady stream of worshippers braved the cold and rain on Sunday to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, where spirits were lifted by the largest turnout of foreign pilgrims in years.

    Despite the foul weather, Bethlehem residents had reason to smile. About 30,000 pilgrims converged on the birthplace of Jesus for Christmas celebrations this year, Israeli officials said, about twice as many as last year and by far the highest turnout since fighting broke out in September 2000.

    Although the crowds are still a fraction of the peak years in the mid-1990s, the influx of tourists reflected the improved security situation. Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire last February, bringing a sharp drop in bloodshed. Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip also has buoyed spirits.

    In Christmas messages, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders both expressed wishes for peace in 2006.Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the top Roman Catholic envoy in the Holy Land, spoke of the new atmosphere in the air in his midnight Mass address and urged both sides to put a final end to violence.

    "There seems to be a new Palestinian and Israeli political reality, despite the many complications and hesitations that surround it," Sabbah said. "Leaders with good and honest intentions can make of this new era a time of new blessings ... stopping the past to make room for a new future begin."

    This year's festivities brought a long-missing sense of holiday cheer to Bethlehem. For the first time in six years, restaurants were crowded, souvenir sales were brisk and hotels were full of tourists.

    "This was a very, very exceptional Christmas," said Abdel Rahman Ghayatha, the Palestinian police commander in downtown Bethlehem. "We did not expect this big a turnout of people, especially in light of the rain and cold. It was very exceptional and very orderly."Several thousand tourists poured into Bethlehem on Sunday for services in the Church of the Nativity compound, above the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born. Worshippers lined up outside the packed churches waiting to get in, a contrast to the sparse turnouts of previous years.

    Nearby Manger Square was turned into a makeshift parking lot, filled with dozens of vehicles, while a steady stream of buses took cover in an underground lot.

    Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called local Christian leaders on Saturday to wish them a merry Christmas, saying he hopes the new year will bring Israel and the Palestinians peace and security.

    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who attended Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem offered a message of peace but also criticized Israel's massive West Bank separation barrier, which divides Bethlehem and blocks access to neighboring Jerusalem.

    Israel says the barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers, but the Palestinians say the structure, which dips into the West Bank in many places, amounts to seizure of land they claim for an independent state.

    The Palestinians "are seeking a bridge to peace instead of Israeli walls," Abbas said in a televised speech Saturday. "Unfortunately, Israel is continuing with its destructive policy ... (and) transforming our land into a big jail."

    The barrier put a damper on the Christmas spirit, preventing tourists from walking into town on the biblical-era route likely used by Jesus and Mary. Instead, they were forced to enter through an Israeli checkpoint.

    "The wall has got to go. It's a wall of shame. Jesus is a uniter not a divider," said James Elsman, a 69-year-old lawyer from Detroit, a placard saying "Trust Jesus" draped over his shoulders.

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