Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bethlehem Update December 2007

There is so much to report about conditions in the Bethlehem area.
Mapping Palestinian Christians in the West Bank
The International Center of Bethlehem (ICB) - - announces ... 
...a new, exciting initiative that will begin the path toward developing a strategic plan for Christians and Christianity not only to survive, but to thrive here in Palestine.  Based at the ICB complex, this new project hopes to fill the gap in what is known about the Palestinian Christian community in the West Bank, and eventually in Gaza and Israel as well.  We plan, together with the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP), Jerusalem Interchurch Center (JIC), and other partner organisations to investigate and map Palestinian Christian communities and organisations, gather information from Palestinian Christians on their resources, needs, hopes and concerns, and provide a forum for discussion and development of new structures and initiatives.
We hope that, through this mapping exercise, this initiative will increase awareness among Palestinian Christians of their own needs and capabilities, individually and as a community, and lead to further development and cooperation, and eventually to greater civic participation.  This project will be headed up by Rifat Odeh Kassis, who has recently come to join us at DIYAR.  Mr. Kassis is the president of the international council of Defence for Children International, and worked most recently in Geneva with the World Council of Churches.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs sent an action alert Dec. 13 regarding a London Times article by columnist Michael Gove. []

Please make your views known regarding a brief but deeply flawed article in the London Times by columnist Michael Gove, published on December 11, 2007, entitled “Bethlehem and Bigotry.” (It’s at the end of his column.) Groves is a Conservative Member of Parliament as well as a frequent contributor to The Times and BBC broadcasts.
Gove’s comments are easily and factually rebutted by reading a special report about Bethlehem Christians, published in the January/February 2006 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pp. 16-19, “Bethlehem Voices: Hopes and Fears.” -

Please also see a report entitled “Costs of Conflict: The Changing Face of Bethlehem,” published in December 2004 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Office of the Special Coordinator for the Peace Process in the Middle East (UNSCO). [ ]  Extracts from the report are available at:

Write to The Times and Michael Gove to make your views known. Palestinian Christians please show that he does not speak on your behalf. Write to, and/or post your comment in the feedback section at the end of the article. ... The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, PO Box 53062, Washington DC 20009,  [], published by the American Educational Trust.

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See this month's edition of National Geographic
National Geographic magazine features a beautiful article on Bethlehem in the December 2007 issue:

I have some quibbles with the text and the pull-quotes, but the photographs are astounding.

The article begins:

"This is not how Mary and Joseph came into Bethlehem, but this is how you enter now. You wait at the wall. It's a daunting concrete barricade, three stories high, thorned with razor wire. Standing beside it, you feel as if you're at the base of a dam. Israeli soldiers armed with assault rifles examine your papers. They search your vehicle. No Israeli civilian, by military order, is allowed in. And few Bethlehem residents are permitted out—the reason the wall exists here, according to the Israeli government, is to keep terrorists away from Jerusalem.

"Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only six miles apart (ten kilometers), though in the compressed and fractious geography of the region, this places them in different realms. It can take a month for a postcard to go from one city to the other. Bethlehem is in the West Bank, on land taken by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. It's a Palestinian city; the majority of its 35,000 residents are Muslim. In 1900, more than 90 percent of the city was Christian. Today Bethlehem is only about one-third Christian, and this proportion is steadily shrinking as Christians leave for Europe or the Americas. At least a dozen suicide bombers have come from the city and surrounding district. The truth is that Bethlehem, the "little town" venerated during Christmas, is one of the most contentious places on Earth."

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George N. Rishmawi of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People (PCR) writes:

This Year, the Christmas comes in the same week of Eid Al-Adha and allPalestinians, Christians and Muslims celebrate together.

In Beit Sahour, the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People [] and theMunicipality of Beit Sahour have joined efforts to organize a three-dayfestival December 21 – 23, 2007, which will include the Annual CandleProcession for this year which will be held under the title “Light A Candle for a Just Peace” to affirm to all the world that what Palestinians need is aJust Peace a true peace that is based on retrieving the rights of those whose rights are violated.

In addition the festival will also include the lightening of the Christmas tree in Beit Sahour and a number of folklore groups and local singers and musicians, in addition to children activities.

The program is also available at

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U.S. Volunteers Join With Palestinian Musicians for Bethlehem Concert; Christmas Eve Performance in Bethlehem to be Largest Event in Manger Square Since 1999

COLUMBUS, Mississippi (Dec.  10, 2007) -- An all-volunteer U.S. group of professional, collegiate and church musicians and choir singers from seven states will join with Palestinian musicians to perform the first major Christmas Eve concert in Bethlehem's Manger Square since 1999.

The more than 150-voice chorus traveling at their own expense from the United States will join with 20 singers based in Jerusalem and members of The Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.  Along with world-class operatic performers, led by renowned conductors Dr. Robert McBain and Dr. Eric Thorson, the choir and orchestra will perform portions of Handel's Messiah to deliver a simple message of "Peace on earth, good will to all."

"While the music is the traditional Christmas music of Handel and John Rutter, the presence of the singers, orchestra and soloists transcends the differences existing among peoples of the world, and unites us in friendship and hope in this deeply symbolic season," said organizer Rev. Sam Morris, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Columbus, Miss., and adjunct professor at the Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration (J.I.B.E.).  Morris conceived the idea and engaged with friends and colleagues to coordinate what officially has been dubbed the "Prepare the Way Concert Tour 2007: Peace on Earth, Good Will to All."

"With the hope of a just peace looming on the horizon, it is time to 'prepare the way,'" said Rev. Morris.  "One of the world's greatest tenors, Stuart Neill, will sing those very words on Christmas Eve to a world watching and waiting for peace." 
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To receive bulletins from Ann Hafften, go to "A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Middle East Peace"  -

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