Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
On one of my trips to Bethlehem several years ago, I had the good fortune to arrange a visit to the Tent of Nations in the Judean hills south of the city. I have been to Bethlehem probably eight times over the past 12 years, oen on trips which are scheduled around meetings such as this one, in which we met Daoud Nassar, a man whose family has lived on his land for centuries.
He survives on a hilltop, surrounded by lands that have been occupied illegally by Israeli selers. This was the cold truth we discover each time we go (from the Tent of Nations website): “Bethlehem has a centuries- old spiritual, cultural and economic link with Jerusalem, located only a few kilometers away. It is highly dependent on religious pilgrims and tourism for its economic survival. However, the Israeli policy of constructing selements and the Wall around Bethlehem has turned the city from a social and lively spirit to an isolated town from Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Palestinians are forbidden to move between the two cities, and the service industry in the West Bank has been roughly destroyed, most locals who depend on welcoming visitors are struggling to earn their daily living and their basic needs.”
Daoud has spent most of his adult life with a full-time job of trying to hold onto his land. “Israeli Selers” come into Palestinian territories and take control of lands. Then they start fights. The Israeli police are called in to “protect” the selers, then they build fortified, armed buildings. Lile by lile through intimidation and confiscation, the Palestinians are pushed out. Daoud has, over the years, found support from all churches in all countries who have joined with him in holding onto his land despite the refusal for water and building permits, the harassment, the difficulty. This is the “Tent of Nations.”
This is his story and he is coming on Thursday to tell it. It is a story you must hear. As many of you probably know, about 12 years ago I and some friends started a nonprofit called “Holy Land Christians’ Society” whose purpose was to promote the presence of Christians in Israel-Palestine. We took pictures of the new walls that were going up around the Palestinian territories and took them to Congress to get the story out. We raise money to support tuition scholarships for Christian schools (Catholic and Orthodox) in the Bethlehem area, schools who combine the student population of Christians and Muslims so that peace is something that begins with youth. Each Christmas St. Mary (you) support an orphanage (The Creche) with part of the Christmas collection — a place with limited activities because of the occupation and barriers and checkpoints.
We started doing this because we realized that the Christians in Palestine — that’s right, Christian Arabs — were formerly 30% of the total population and have been run off, now less than 2%. Somebody had to get the story out to a world that wasn’t even aware that there had been Christians living in the land of Christ. Christian institutions — monasteries, schools, hospitals, nursing homes — were in danger of extinction due to lack of mobility and religious Sisters and Priests were not allowed visas, so they could either never leave or be replaced. I traveled once with the director of Catholic Relief Services who told me that the inhumanity in Israel- Palestine is not as extreme as in many places of the world (though thousands are held in undisclosed prison camps) but that what has developed is a culture of fear, which so easily erupts in anger and violence. The work of peace, he said, is nowhere more needed, because the whole world looks to Jerusalem to see what direction their next action might take. An act of violence in Bethlehem is felt around the world — just as the Birth of a King, the Son of God, was a global event.
Come and hear Daoud’s message: “We refuse to be enemies.”
God bless you.