On the eve of the “Annapolis Summit” where representatives from Arab nations and Israel will come again to the table to resume peace talks, National Geographic Magazine has an article about Bethlehem. “Bethlehem,” says the article, “is one of the most contentious places on earth.” Consider the following from the article:
- Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only 6 miles apart (and separated by a wall).
- Bethlehem is a Palestinian city, with the majority of its citizens being Muslim.
- In 1900, 90% of the residents of Bethlehem were Christian.
- There is one checkpoint/crossing available between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and very few Palestinians are granted permission to cross.
- The wall separates squalid refugee camps from growing Jewish settlements.
- Tourism is very low.
- Unemployment is about 50%.
During my visit to Bethlehem in 1990, I remember a place with some tension because of the intifada, yet the people were hospitable and friendly. Since then, so much has changed. The stories Lutheran Bishop Younan tells are tragic. Tragic too has been the reality that many U.S. Christian churches have unashamedly supported Israel while ignoring Christian brothers and sisters who suffer at the hands of the Israelis.
Pray for progress in the peace talks in Annapolis on November 27th.
(I’ve decided to purchase some gifts made by people in Bethlehem this Christmas as a small way of providing support.)