BETH LEHEM, TUESDAY, 9/7/þþ2002
An appeal from the Governorate of Beth lehem
Today marks the twentieth day of the latest Israeli incursion into Bethlehem govrnorate, which is the fifth in less than a year. The Israeli army is imposing a total of blockade on the whole govrnorate including a curfew on the cities of Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour, Beit-Jala, Al Doha and Al-Khader as well as the three refugee camps of Dheishe, Aida and Al-Azzeh. Every few days, the curfew is lifted for few hour’s to allow the citizens to buy their basic needs of food. The situation is not exciting for the media and thus, the tragedy of the 130 000 Palestinians in Bethlehem Governorate together with the rest of the west bank and Gaza does not get reported. This appeal is made to shed light on the human disaster in Bethlehem Governorate and ask for immediate intervention of the international community based on its commitments and rights to protect civilians and human lives under political conflict.
During the past two years, Bethlehem Governorate has been subjected to an escalating campaign of destruction by the Israeli army. Indiscriminate shelling of the Israeli army has destroyed more than 250 houses. More than seventy Palestinians, mostly civilians including 20 children have been killed by Israeli army gunfire. More than 600 Bethlehemites are in Israeli jails and the majority have been issued with administrative detention orders i.e. with out any charges and under harsh conditions in the infamous Ansar III detention center in the Negev desert. The headquarters of the PNA have been totally destroyed by the Israeli F 16 jet fighters leaving more than 1500 persons without shelter. The infrastructure that Bethlehem was able to rehabilitate in the preparation for the new millennium has been destroyed. Everyday, the Israeli tanks destroy electricity poles and water pipes. There is ample evidence that the distraction is deleparate and systematic which oblige us to ask the basic question: WHY???
Bethlehem Governorate has always been classified as an affluent society characterized by a good standard of living and a healthy economy based on tourism and other services. Its physical proximity to Jerusalem has further strengthened the historic, economic, health, social and religious ties with Jerusalem. For the past two years, Israeli has progressively been working on serving this organic relationship between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. As a result, thousands of Bethlehemites lost their jobs in Jerusalem. The tourism sector disintegrated with no tourists being allowed to visit Bethlehem. Hotels are empty and the hundreds of Bethlehemites working in arts and crafts have become unemployed. In all more than 70% of the population is now living in poverty. People are unable to pay their water and electricity bills. Many are contemplating to migrate. This is not the Bethlehem that we all know and want.
We see no justification for the continued Israeli presence in Bethlehem Governorate. The Israeli army is hardly doing any thing that justifies its incursion except caging the whole population of Bethlehem and driving them into despair and frustration. The
Bethlehemites are a proud and industrious people who aspire for building their society and economy. They certainly do not accept such conditions, which has transformed their lives to more survival and charity dependence. They see that the Israeli army actions are intended to implement a voluntary transfer policy that will affect first and foremost the well-educated and middle class members of the society, which traditionally comprises the Christians. They quote that the percentage of Christians living in the Holy Land, which comprises Israel, and Palestine is less than 1.8 %, which is by far the lowest percentage of Christians in all neighboring countries.
As a Palestinian Moslem, I cherish the excellent relationship that I have seen a mong Christians and Moslems in Bethlehem, which should become arole model for tolerance and co-existence in the whole region. During the 40 days episode in the church of Nativity, I was an eyewitness of this relation ship, which has even been reinforced by our common destiny. I here recall the latest statement of the Israeli opposition leader who described the Israeli army practices against the Palestinian as a war crime that will have far reaching effects on the whole region. Therefore, I appeal to you to act immediately to stop the Israeli practices in Bethlehem Governorate, which I am obliged to declare as a human disaster area, that needs your immediate attention.
Mohammad Al Madani
Governor of Bethlehem