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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hard Times in the Land of Bethlehem


“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”
Isaiah 5:8 NIV

Multitudes rejoiced when Jews who suffered unspeakable horrors during the Holocaust were able to find a place of safety and security in a newly formed state of Israel. Many, including myself, have seen this as a sign of God’s rescue and blessing, and many celebrate it as a fulfillment of the Biblical promise of an eventual restoration of the glory of the ancient monarchy of King David.

But a people who are saved from injustice have a special obligation to extend justice to others, in the spirit of the current eight-day celebration of Hanukkah.

According to the website Mondoweiss, while recent news stories from Israel/Palestine have focused on Gaza, the UN recognition of Palestine, and on the increase of Jerusalem-area settlements, Israeli military maneuvers in the West Bank have been pushing more Palestinians off their land.

In an apparent response to the recent bid to the UN for Palestinian statehood, the Israeli government is moving forward with plans to rezone a large West Bank area known as E1 east of Jerusalem (in orange in the above map) as a site for this exceptional addition to already existing Jewish settlements in the region (in gray). The project would link annexed East Jerusalem with the already large Ma’aleh Adumin community, and would virtually cut the remaining Palestinian territory in two.

Christians in the Bethlehem District, along with their Muslim neighbors, have already suffered the disastrous consequence of the new security wall that now surrounds it (red line in above map), which is crippling the tourist trade and further blocks free access to other parts of the region. As a result of economic and political pressures, the number of Arab Christians in the area has been decimated, caught in the ongoing tension between Israel and their fellow Palestinian neighbors.

Sadly, if present trends continue, there may soon be virtually no room in the inn for the followers of Jesus who have long lived in the area of Christ’s birth. As someone who believes God loves the people of Israel but also cares compassionately for the welfare of all people everywhere, this makes me sad indeed.

The above map is from the Churches for Middle East Peace website
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