Friday, December 21, 2007

The other Bethlehem story

The Palestinians of Bethlehem, which according to the Gospels is the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, have waited and struggled a long time for their freedom. Rulers down the ages have included the Romans, Persians, Crusaders, Ottomans, Egyptians, British, Jordanians and, to date, the Israelis who captured the town in 1967.

The Israelis have built a wall which runs along on the northern side of the town’s built-up area and getting to nearby Jerusalem means obtaining a permit and passing through Israeli checkpoints. Not surprisingly, the numbers of Christians who are able to visit the Church of the Nativity at Christmas have plummeted.

How many more Christmases will the Palestinians of Bethlehem – who include one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East – have to endure occupation? The recent negotiations in the US between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ended without progress. That was inevitable. A large section of the Palestinians, the Gazans, were not even represented at the talks as their elected Hamas leadership is deemed unacceptable to Washington, which props up the Israeli regime with guns and funds.

The territories captured by Israel in 1967 are now so riddled with settlements, roads, checkpoints and the infamous wall, that drawing the boundaries of an integrated Palestinian state is simply an impossible task. In other words, a two-state “solution” is now history. Increasing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis now see that a single, secular state, that would embrace all the people in the area, is the only practical way forward. A One State Declaration was issued recently following conferences in Madrid and London. Endorsed by both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as by people from around the world, it says:

• The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national origin or current citizenship status;
• Any system of government must be founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens. Power must be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all people in the diversity of their identities;

• There must be just redress for the devastating effects of decades of Zionist colonization in the pre- and post-state period, including the abrogation of all laws, and ending all policies, practices and systems of military and civil control that oppress and discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion or national origin;

• The recognition of the diverse character of the society, encompassing distinct religious, linguistic and cultural traditions, and national experiences;

• The creation of a non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion;

• The implementation of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 is a fundamental requirement for justice, and a benchmark of the respect for equality;

• The creation of a transparent and non-discriminatory immigration policy;

• The recognition of the historic connections between the diverse communities inside the new, democratic state and their respective fellow communities outside;

• In articulating the specific contours of such a solution, those who have been historically excluded from decision-making -- especially the Palestinian Diaspora and its refugees, and Palestinians inside Israel -- must play a central role;

• The establishment of legal and institutional frameworks for justice and reconciliation.

The more support this statement of principles gathers, the greater are the prospects that the Palestinians of Bethlehem and other towns and villages under occupation will win their freedom.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Our next blog will be published on December 31. Seasonal greetings to all our readers.

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