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Letter from Bethlehem to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ..
By Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
Dear Sen. Clinton:
Greetings to you from Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the center of the world for billions of Christians in the 2,000 years since the Word became flesh, and the home of a dwindling population of Palestinian Christians who, despite the continued pressures of living under Israeli policies of occupation and segregation, still hold onto their lands and dignity.
I was encouraged when I met your husband here in Bethlehem in 1999, during the preparations for the Bethlehem 2000 millennium celebrations. I was also encouraged when in 1998 you said that “it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state,” a conviction which is shared today by the entire international community, including many Israelis.
I was surprised last week when I saw your picture in Ha’aretz, which was taken near the Wall, just outside of our town. I know that many Palestinians would have loved to welcome you in their homes in Bethlehem, but you did not come to visit us.
Perhaps you simply did not have time to stop by and greet us, the people who would be the other half of any agreement which would allow Israel to live in security and peace. Or perhaps while you had Bethlehem in the background of the publicity photos, you had certain of your constituents in New York in the forefront of your mind.
In one month’s time, you will be singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I wonder: How you will sing it this year, having declared your support for transforming our “little town” into a big, open-air prison, leaving no green space for our children to play or our olive trees to grow?
Your comment that the Wall “is not against the Palestinian people … (it) is against terrorists” is deeply offensive in its ignorance and glossy portrayal of the effects of Israeli policy in the West Bank. We would like you to know that the Wall is affecting the daily life of every Palestinian person, not only in our town but throughout the West Bank.
The Wall is less about security than it is about colonizing land and controlling its indigenous population. It is designed to allow maximum expansion for Israeli settlements – which are unequivocally illegal under international law – and minimal space for Palestinian towns and villages to grow or even draw their livelihood.
The Wall is limiting Bethlehem to an area of about six square miles, while the settlements which surround us continue to expand on stolen Palestinian land. After taking such a courageous standpoint in 1998, why are you suddenly abandoning international law, the consensus of the international community, Christian notions of justice and reconciliation, and the American values of freedom and dignity which you have sworn to uphold? Please do not try to gain political support at the expense of the Palestinian people.
We thank God for all our American friends who visit us, work with us, support us and help us build bridges, not walls. You will be hearing from some of them, those who are your constituents in New York, and we hope you will listen to what they have to say.
We are not asking for your pity, but we do ask you to reconsider your position in support of the Wall, which is illegal and violates our rights to land, jobs, family, free movement, dignity and self-determination. These are American values, and we merely implore you to ensure that they are upheld here.
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
Pastor, Christmas Lutheran Church
General Director, The International Center of Bethlehem and Dar al-Kalima Academy