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What will Christians do about Bethlehem ?
Open Bethlehem Newsletter - January 2006

From: "Charlotte Carson"

Christmas season brings support from Churches

January 2006

Catholic Archbishop issues Christmas SOS for Bethlehem

The Archbishop of  Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, used his midnight mass homily to urge Christians to rescue the town of Christ's birth.  The spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales said:

"How sad it is that Christians in Bethlehem feel compelled to leave the land of their birth for foreign lands, on account of the political situation in the Holy Land. How tragic that as a result of all the violence perpetrated there the little town of Christ's birth is corralled, blocked in by a wall and checkpoints. Borders have been re-drawn: families have been separated and ancient landmarks have been lost to the town. Commerce and tourism have been decimated; unemployment has led to an exodus of citizens, most of them Christians.
St. Jerome calls Bethlehem "the most sacred spot in the world for us, indeed for the whole world". Yet Bethlehem, the icon of all pilgrim sites, sees only one in ten of the pilgrims who five years ago came to pay homage to the Christ Child. How tragic that Christians, who for centuries have lived in harmony with their neighbours and who have stood resolutely for peace, are being forced out by present circumstances.

The people of Bethlehem are tonight celebrating the Nativity with joy. But they feel terribly alone. Recently Pope Benedict accepted, on behalf of the Catholic Church, a symbolic Bethlehem passport. He wanted to show that we are all citizens of Bethlehem, and that Bethlehem should be a free and open city. I hope that we can play our part in ensuring that it stay that way: that those of you who have not visited Bethlehem and are able to will take time this year to do so: to stay there, and to show the people of that town that they are not alone."

Please send your own message to the Archbishop thanking him for his courageous support for the people of Bethlehem:

Israeli Embassy says ‘there is no fence encircling Bethlehem’

Since Open Bethlehem’s launch in November last year, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued various statements to the press, tourism industry, and to key figures in the Christian community disputing the existence of the wall around Bethlehem.

The embassy’s carefully worded presentation, Bethlehem 2005 (click here to view), was reproduced in the Catholic Times on New Year’s Day. Open Bethlehem has responded to this article detailing the reality behind the Israeli embassy’s spin.

The latest map of the wall around Bethlehem reveals how the wall – a barrier of concrete walls, electric fences, military roads, settler-only roads and settlements – is fast turning Bethlehem into an outdoor prison.

Israeli Wall is
‘affront to all
Christians’ says

The following
statement was
released in
December 2005 by
the Christian
alliance, Churches
Together in Britain
and Ireland (CTBI):

“As Presidents of
Churches Together
in Britain and
Ireland we wish, in
the approach to
Christmas, to
convey our support
for the people of
Bethlehem and
particularly for the
aims and work of
the Open
Bethlehem Project,
based at Bethlehem
University and
hand-in-hand with
all Bethlehem's civil

The short road
between Bethlehem
and Jerusalem has
always been the
great high road of
the Christian faith,
linking as it does
the cities of Our
Lord's birth and
resurrection. It has
been trodden by
countless millions
of pilgrims in the
last 2,000 years.
Nearly 70,000 UK
tourists visited
Bethlehem in 2000.
Last year there
were fewer than

We are dismayed
that the road
between Bethlehem
and Jerusalem is
now closed to the
great majority of
Christian and
Muslim, and
passable only with
much inconvenience
and expenditure of
time by
pilgrims visiting the
Holy Land. We
view this closure
and the barrier
being built around
Bethlehem as a
grave injustice to its
people, a serious
threat to its
economic life and
social fabric, and an
affront to all

We urge members
of CTBI Churches
and others to show
their support for
the people of
Bethlehem by
visiting and
experiencing the
hospitality that
Bethlehem has
offered through the
centuries and to
take every
opportunity to buy
and enjoy the
products of the
craftsmanship of its

We pray for a time
not far off when the
only true and just
peace that comes
from the breaking
down of barriers
and the opening of
doors will be found
between Israel and
the Palestinians,
and trust that the
Churches in these
islands will
contribute what
they can to secure
this end.”

Patriarch of
becoming ‘big

Thousands of
Christians packed
into Manger Square
on Christmas Eve
to hear the
Christmas address
by Michael Sabbah,
Patriarch of the
Roman Catholic
Church in
Jerusalem. In his
speech he said that
Israel must remove
its separation wall
which is
surrounding the
Holy City and
transforming in into
a ‘big prison’.

He added: “The
separating wall can
neither separate nor
protect. It can only
increase mutual
hatred and
ignorance; it can
only be the object
of hostility and
violence and cause
greater insecurity.”

Bishop Riah Abu
El-Assal, Anglican
Bishop in
Jerusalem, 31
December 2005

“I was moved to
tears, in fact to
anger, having
witnessed little
besieged with an
iron gate - very
much like prison
gates - blocking
into it. The only
hope was in a star
that neither tanks
nor fighter planes
- nor separation
walls, could stop
its light from
penetrating the
darkness that was.”

Catholic Bishops
of Ireland,
December 2005

“We deplore the
consequences of the
current programme
of wall and fence
building, which is
set to continue,
which further
deepens the sense
of separation
between the
different peoples in
the Holy Land.”

Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Christians should visit struggling Bethlehem’

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has urged Christians throughout the world to make efforts to visit Bethlehem as a place of pilgrimage and to remember the 'struggling' town in their prayers.

In a letter presented to Dr Victor Batarseh, the Mayor of Bethlehem, marking the feast of the Epiphany, Dr Williams expressed his concern for the fate of the area.

"I am aware of the severe hardship which many are suffering; the decline of tourism, the difficulties of access and movement and the struggle to sustain the economic and social life of the city. I am distressed to hear that the current situation has prompted so many families, especially Christians, to leave the city and seek security and stability elsewhere. I have raised these concerns directly with the Israeli authorities."

Dr Williams said that Christians throughout the world could play their part:

"I urge Christians worldwide to support your community, to visit you whenever possible and to pray for the people of Bethlehem that they may not be forgotten. We pray for the day when a just and lasting peace will be established in the region which will bring freedom, dignity and security to all the people of Bethlehem."

The letter was presented in Bethlehem on Friday [January 6th] to Dr Batarseh on behalf of Dr Williams by an Anglican delegation from the UK led by the Bishop of Tonbridge, the Rt Revd Brian Castle.

best Christmas news coverage:

Christ is crying for town of birth says Cardinal, Times, 26/12/05

Isolated Bethlehem struggles for its survival, Financial Times, 23/12/05

Today's Joseoh and Mary would face 15 checkpoints, Times, 23/12/05

In praise of Bethlehem, The Guardian, 24/12/05

Our Bethleham Headquarters:
Open Bethlehem
Bethlehem University
Room 5 – Millennium Building
Tel/Fax: ++ 972 (2) 274 1241 Ext: 2470
Email us: openbethlehem@openbethlehem.org

Thank you. xxxc

From: Sal Achhala\n[mailto:sal@zaytoun.org]

Our London Office:
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Tel: +44 (0) 207 222 7820
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