Christians and civic leaders in Bethlehem have said they are appalled by an American congressman’s resolution about their ‘rights’ which ignores their real concerns
Christians and civic leaders in Bethlehem have said they are appalled by an American congressman’s resolution about their ‘rights’ which ignores their real concerns, gives a distorted picture of the situation in Israel-Palestine, and was drafted without reference to them.
Responding to Texan politician Michael McCaul’s resolution on the plight of Palestinian Christians, Open Bethlehem’s chief executive Leila Sansour, a Christian from the town itself, has sent a letter to the United States Congress expressing her community’s “shock” at the “gross misrepresentation of the real threat facing Christians of the Holy Land”.
Ms Sansour has urged the US government to pay proper heed to the real threat to the oldest Christian community in the world – which does not come from the Hamas-led regime, but from international neglect, say representatives of the historic churches in the region.
Open Bethlehem is a churches-backed advocacy network to highlight the effective Israeli blockade on the town, reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus. It is supported by the main civil and religious groups in Bethlehem and by international faith leaders.
The letter from Ms Sansour declares: “We are disappointed by the latest resolution drafted by congressman McCaul and congressman Crowley purporting to act on our behalf. The resolution seriously misrepresents the situation facing Christians in the Holy Land”.
It continues: “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 the Holy City of Bethlehem, the wall forcefully expropriates most of Bethlehem’s valuable land and historic landmarks, depriving many Christian families of their homes, barring access to family and jobs in Jerusalem and all the lands that are on the other side of the wall.”
The letter concludes: “By perpetuating the misconception that it is their Muslim neighbours and the Palestinian Authority who are creating 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 the state of emergency in Bethlehem, with full support from the Patriarchs of the churches in Jerusalem and all Bethlehem civil institutions.
The Open Bethlehem coalition has also launched an ‘international passport’ initiative in a bid to keep the town open.
Pope Benedict XVI received the first Open Bethlehem passport, lending his support to the campaign alongside international figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Catholic Cardinal Achbishop of Westminster, and President Jimmy Carter.
Church leaders from across the Christian denominations have criticised the resolution. In the letter to US congress Open Bethlehem has urged the formation of a fact finding mission from congress that would help representatives become closely informed about the situation.