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11 May 2009

Israel continues to wall off Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus / UN releases report of Bethlehem's suffocation

Click image to enlarge.

Robert Merkin
Northampton, Massachusetts USA
10 May 2009

Rabbi Steve Gutow
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Israel Advocacy Initiative

Dear Rabbi Gutow,

I want Israel immediately to stop isolating, imprisoning, walling in, suffocating and strangling Bethlehem, during the Christmas season, and every day of every year.

I find it disgusting to have to co-exist with my Christian friends and neighbors while this human-rights perversion continues, worsens and hardens into permanent government policy.

About 2,000,000,000 of my Christian sisters, brothers and neighbors
all over my world believe Bethlehem is the birthplace of a Jew every Jew can and should recognize as a religious teacher and leader fully in our own historic and theological tradition of moral and ethical reform.

As Jews, we may choose not to accept Jesus as one of our religious inspirations, and we may certainly dismiss -- with scrupulous neighborly respect -- claims made for his divinity.

But to insult the reverence Christians feel for Bethlehem -- with armed military force and ghastly barrier walls -- erodes and shames my relationship with and support for Israel considered not as a civilized vision for Jews and the world, but as a succession of political governments self-satisfied with inhuman gunpoint policies.

I am a U.S. Army veteran, and know what tasks are appropriate and decent for soldiers, and what tasks are shameful, miserable and grotesque for soldiers. Suffocating and intimidating the people, pilgrims, and commerce of Bethlehem is a shameful and unworthy task for soldiers.

Jews lead the sad roll of having experienced military and police interference with our worship and our pilgrimages. Jews should long ago have rejected the use of armed force and sealed walls to interfere with the religious observances and beliefs of other faiths.

Were this only a pragmatic matter of security, Israel's policies toward Bethlehem guarantee a worsening of support for Israel and a worsening of security for Israel. To the anger and hostility of Muslims and Arabs, Israel has chosen to add the anger and hostility of Christians.

As Jews each of us has a choice: We can be Teddy Kollek, or we can be Netanyahu. Only blindness and stupidity can convince us that choosing to careen into the future as clones of Netanyahu will bring Jews and Israel better, safer gifts than the marginalized and rejected vision and actions of Teddy Kollek. Bethlehem now is an assault against and insult to the achievements and legacy of Kollek's Jerusalem.

This week, as Pope Benedict XVI visits, the IDF forbade the construction of an amphitheater in Bethlehem within sight of the Separation Barrier.

All that happens in Bethlehem, including its degree of access to the outside world, happens at the will and order of the government of Israel.

In early May, UN OCHA-OPT (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs / occupied Palestinian territory) issued "Shrinking Space: Urban Contraction and Rural Fragmentation in the Bethlehem Governorate," a detailed and quantified report about the state of things in and surrounding Bethlehem. I urge you to give it your closest attention.

The timing of its release days before Pope Benedict XVI's visit has been accused of political bias. I would gladly consider more appropriate and convenient times to bring this factual information to the world's attention.

It is my sincerest and most urgent wish that you and the Israel Advocacy Initiative raise the miserable and shameful situation of Bethlehem, and proposals for prompt, substantive relief, at the highest levels of the Israeli government, frequently and loudly, in your missions and communications.


Robert Merkin

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