Sunday, December 18, 2005

O Little Town of Bethlehem

The wall that surrounds Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark street shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the Christian Century magazine this week Impressions columnist James Wall draws our attention to signs of hope for the city of Bethlehem. The Open Bethlehem Project announced by Leila Sansour, a Palestinian Christian who serves as the Chief Executive of the project, deserves the serious attention of Christians and others of good will across the world. Religion News Service reports that at a news conference at the National Press Club on Nov. 17, 2005 Sansour made a particular appeal to Christians worldwide in the lead up to Christmas.

This September I saw the plight of Bethlehem with my own eyes. The wall (or the security barrier, as our Jewish friends call it) is a 30 foot concrete structure that encircles this 4,000 year old city turning it into a virtual prison for its 160,000 citizens. The number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has dropped from nearly 92,000 in 2000 to a mere 7,249 in 2004. In the last five years 9.3 per cent of the Christian population of Bethlehem has emigrated. Restaurants, shops and commercial outlets have shrunk and Bethlehem’s economy is threatened.

Declaring that Bethlehem is an “Open City” Mayor Dr Victor Batarseh, together with Leila Sansour, announced the issuing of a Bethlehem passport as part of a campaign to encourage trade partnerships, investment, tourism, events, and to attract creative opportunities to the city, to all who are willing to join the struggle for its survival. “We recognise we have to act,” says Ms Sansour. “The passport is a way to ask people to step up to the plate. Invest in Bethlehem, bring projects to the city, or come and live among us -- and you can also be a Bethlehemite.” The core message of the project is that Bethlehem is a city of openness and diversity, with a centuries old tradition of welcoming travelers, refugees and pilgrims from across the world.

Open Bethlehem is described by President Jimmy Carter as “a worthy and admirable project.” Supporter Archbishop Desmond Tutu says “it is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation.” The project also enjoys the backing of, among other influential leaders, the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Archbishop of Jerusalem His Excellency Michel Sabah.

I want to again urge you to read two letters I received from Bethlehem friends, Rev. Dr. Mitri Rahab, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church and International Center and Ellias Halabi, a student at the Bethlehem University. I hope this Christmas you will make a determined effort to find an opportunity to visit Bethlehem or to invest in the city of our Lord’s birth.


Post a Comment

<< Home