Friday, June 16, 2006

Congress misled on Palestinian Christians

Congress misled about real threat to PalestinianChristians
Press release 15 June 2006

In response to Texas congressman Michael McCaul’s resolution on the plight of Palestinian Christians, Open Bethlehem’s chief executive Leila Sansour, a Christian from Bethlehem, has sent a letter to congress expressing her community’s shock at the gross misrepresentation of the real threat facing Christians of the Holy Land and has urged congress to pay heed to the real threat to the oldest Christian community in the world.

The letter dated 13 June states: “We are disappointedby the latest resolution drafted by congressman McCauland congressman Crowley purporting to act on our behalf. The resolution seriously misrepresents the situation facing Christians in the Holy Land”.

The ill-conceived resolution accuses the Palestinian Authority of discrimination towards their own Christian community and blames it for the current wave of emigration of the Christians from the region. The resolution was drafted without any consultation with churches or Christian organizations in the Holy Land. The resolution ignores the numerous calls from churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem - and the overwhelming body of reports from international human rights organizations - that warn of the devastating effect of the Israeli system of closure, collective punishment and the construction of the wall.

In theHoly City of Bethlehem, the wall forcefully expropriates most of Bethlehem’s valuable land and historic landmarks, depriving many Christian familiesof their homes, barring access to family and jobs in Jerusalem and all the lands that are on the other side of the wall. By perpetuating the misconception that it is theirMuslim neighbors and the Palestinian Authority who arecreating this crisis, rather than policies imposed by the Israeli government, congressman McCaul is further entrenching the problems facing the Christian community rather than helping to address them.

The Open Bethlehem campaign was created to address thestate of emergency in Bethlehem with full support from the Patriarchs of the churches in Jerusalem and all Bethlehem Civil institutions. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI received the first Open Bethlehem passport, lending his support to the campaign alongside international figures such as ArchbishopDesmond Tutu and President Jimmy Carter.

Open Bethlehem is encouraged by the interest shown bychurches and church leaders across the US and the workof rep.

Henry Hyde who has sought to bring congress’sattention to the plight of Christians in Palestine. In a letter to the White House last Friday, Rep. Hyde stated that the Wall and expanding settlements are, “irreversibly damaging the dwindling Christian community." The report says that "the Bethlehem area is home toover 20 Israeli settlements and there are plans to build more. The settlements and the barrier completely encircle the Christian triangle of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (Shepherd’s Field)."

In addition to causing housing and land shortages, "this construction physically obstructs the Bethlehemcommunity from its spiritual, cultural and economic lifeline in Jerusalem."

Since 2000, approx. 3,000 Christians from Bethlehemhave emigrated. The UN states that: “This economic emigration will have a long-term impact on the multi-cultural character that has defined the city of Bethlehem for centuries.”

Leila Sansour says: “Palestinian Christians could verysoon become unsustainable as a community. Their erosion will mean an end to sacred Christian traditions that go back to the time of Jesus, and an end to the presence of Christianity in the Holy Land.

At this critical time it is imperative that Christiansaround the world act and speak responsibly about thisissue. It is imperative that those who want to see anopen, democratic and peaceful Middle East engagehonestly with our plight.” Church leaders from across the Christiandenominations have criticised the resolution. In theletter to US congress Open Bethlehem has urged theformation of a fact finding mission from congress thatwould help representatives become closely informedabout the situation. EndsFull text of the letter and resolution attached.

Leila Sansour mobile: +44 781 493 7743 London Office
Charlotte Carson: + 44 20 7222 8443
Bethlehem Office
Carol Dabdoub: + 972 5454 39 841

Notes for editors:

• Open Bethlehem is a Bethlehem city initiative topreserve the historic character of our Holy citywithin an open, democratic and multi-faith MiddleEast.

• Open Bethlehem was launched on 9 November 2005,declaring Bethlehem an open city and announcing theissue of a Bethlehem passport, given to His HolinessPope Benedict.

• Open Bethlehem hosts tours, delegations, eventspromoters and investors on the basis that Bethlehem isa city of openness and diversity, with a centuries-oldtradition of welcoming travellers, refugees andpilgrims from across the world.