‘Open Bethlehem’ > Save the City campaign

Posted On December 14, 2006

Filed under News Middle East, Travel MiddleEast

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Open Bethlehem, campaigns to keep the city open to the world at a time when the Israeli wall and land annexations are causing hardship for its inhabitants.

‘Open Bethlehem’ is a Save the City campaign launched in November 2005 announcing the creation of the Bethlehem passport, an honourary citizenship of the city open to all in the world. The first recipient of the passport was his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

The campaign works with church leaders, media and decision makers around the world to help focus world attention on Bethlehem’s plight. It also acts as a bridge for partnerships of all kinds from helping set up new tour operations to organising international events in Bethlehem.

Open Bethlehem invites all tour operators, church groups and aspiring tour leaders to contact us if they need help with information on how to organise pilgrimages and cultural trips to Bethlehem. We also invite people to contact us in the new year for information on available travel programs or if they want to promote tours already in operation.

The Wall in and around Bethlehem has reduced the district to its urban core. It severs the built-up areas from thousands of acres of agricultural land and water resources. There are 27 Israeli settlements in the Bethlehem district built on land confiscated from Bethlehem’s private owners. It is predicted that once the wall is complete Bethlehem will lose 70% of its territory altogether.

A system of cement walls, electric fences, settlers only roads and checkpoints creates a prison-like environment for the people of Bethlehem. The World Bank cites the closure regime as the direct cause of the humanitarian crisis.

70% of the population in Bethlehem lives below the poverty line. Unemployment is higher than 60%. Tourism, which accounts for 65% of the Bethlehem economy is now almost entirely controlled by Israeli companies, meaning that the few tourists that come to Bethlehem don’t stay for more than a few hours. The Hotel Association in Bethlehem has reported that only 2.5% of rooms were booked in 2005 in comparison to 22.1% in 2000.

The Christian population in Bethlehem accounts for 41.3% of the population in Bethlehem town proper and 26% in the whole district. Following Israeli invasions in 2001-2002, Bethlehem lost 10% of it Christian population as 3000 Christians left the city. UNOCHA report, December 2004: http://www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2004/ocha-opt-20dec.pdf

The emigration of Christians is a serious threat to Palestine’s mixed heritage which embraced diversity for centuries.

The Jerusalem-Bethlehem dioceses of the Latin (Catholic), Anglican and Armenian Churches, in common with the Eastern Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches, is centred on the various cathedrals of Jerusalem. The Israeli wall cuts these ancient diocese into parcels, separating churchmen from their congregations and families from each other.

During Open Bethlehem’s launch in November 2005 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland stated: “The short road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem has always been the great high road of the Christian faith, linking as it does the cities of Our Lord’s birth and resurrection. It has been trodden by countless millions of pilgrims in the last 2,000 years. We are dismayed that the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is now closed to the great majority of Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, and passable only with much inconvenience and expenditure of time by pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. We view this closure and the barrier being built around Bethlehem as a grave injustice to its people, a serious threat to its economic life and social fabric, and an affront to all Christians.”

For more information please visit > www.openbethlehem.org