As I mentioned in my earlier circular of 17 July 2002, the Israeli army seized last week lands in Bethlehem belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. The land under dispute consists of 35 acres in an area referred to by Armenians as Baron Der. It lies north of the Aida Palestinian refugee camp, and south of the Tantur Ecumenical Centre. To the east of this grove is the fortified Israeli shrine of Rachel’s Tomb, the biblical matriarch, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Dear Armenian & Concerned Friends:

Peace-seeking greetings to you all!

As I mentioned in my earlier circular of 17 July 2002, the Israeli army seized last week lands in Bethlehem belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate.

The land under dispute consists of 35 acres in an area referred to by Armenians as Baron Der. It lies north of the Aida Palestinian refugee camp, and south of the Tantur Ecumenical Centre. To the east of this grove is the fortified Israeli shrine of Rachel’s Tomb, the biblical matriarch, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Baron Der, with its 165 agricultural acres and many olive trees that date back hundreds of years, was purchased legally in 1641 as the site of a summer residence for the Armenian Patriarch and as a rural retreat for the Armenian monks in the Holy Land. The olive trees supply the traditional oil that lights the lamps over the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as well as over the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. The land is also honeycombed with caves and Byzantine tombs that constitute part of much larger archaeological troves in the Holy

The Israeli plan proposes a 40-metre barrier that would splinter this Armenian property and also result in the occupation of land on both the Jerusalem and West Bank sides of the dividing line. The barrier is meant to be part of a 350-km security wall being currently built by Israel around the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem in order to separate the Palestinian territories from Israeli-held areas.

However, this plot being confiscated by Israel also straddles one of the most unstable political fault lines separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. In fact, many community leaders and observers in Jerusalem posit that this land seizure falls within the larger ambit of Palestinian land seizures by Israel across the whole West Bank. It has much more to do with an attempt to expand the Israeli borderline into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank so that Jewish worshippers would enjoy a direct link and much easier access to Rachel’s Tomb.

The emergency seizure orders were issued late last month. Israeli officials have advised the Armenian officials that they are irreversible. Consequently, the Armenian Patriarchate has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court. To date, the case is still pending, and no judgment has been forthcoming.

However, my hands-on legal / political experience of such cases in the past would suggest that the land has for all intents and purposes been lost. It is not often that such military seizure orders are revoked or rescinded by a court of law. However, there is always an outside chance that the situation could be reprieved somehow. But this requires all friends to turn their emotive words into concerted action. Officials, clergy, non-governmental and church-related organisations as well as individuals should be mobilised to protest against this seizure.

Can this be done, or will Armenians drum up the usual froth that will disappear quickly and without much trace? This one-page document [and other articles] provides the necessary information. Here are five peaceful suggestions for Armenians across the world if they are intent on becoming proactive within a very civilised and non-violent discourse:

* Fax / email the Israeli embassy in your own country with your expression of deep concern over this seizure;
* Address your comments to the Editor of your national or local paper(s) for possible publication;
* Impress upon the Republic of Armenia and the Catholicosate of Holy Etchmiadzin the need to redouble their efforts through diplomatic and ecclesial channels in a more assertive and clear-cut manner;
* Contact your Church officials and ask for their moral support to the Armenian Church in the Holy Land which constitutes one of the four Sees of the Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church world-wide;
* Use your range of contacts – on a leadership or private basis, whether face-to-face or cyber-wise – in order to encourage people to work discreetly in pressing the Israeli government to relinquish its order;
* Channel your wisdom, consternation and sorrow into positive feedback.