As the situation in Bethlehem and the rest of Palestine approaches a humanitarian crisis, Open Bethlehem calls on church leaders, clergy, lay Christians and all who care about peace and justice to speak out against the EU sanctions and support the people of Bethlehem at this critical time.
Over 70% of the population of Bethlehem now lives below the poverty line and unemployment has soared to more than 60%. Once a prosperous middle class town, Bethlehem has been economically suffocated and the post-election sanctions have brought the local population to the brink of disaster.
The funding crisis affects every aspect of life in Bethlehem, not least education. Brother Daniel Casey, Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University, (the only Catholic Christian university in the Holy Land), says: “We are very concerned for our students and their families – especially those whose parents are teachers and social workers and other government employees. Thirty percent of the University’s budget comes from student tuition fees. Families are having great difficulty in making these payments. They are struggling to buy food, medicine, and their basic needs, never mind their tuition fees.” According to Christian Aid, in two years, almost three in four Palestinians (74 per cent) will be living below the United Nations poverty line of an income of £1.10 a day – worse than Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Angola. Christian Aid has stated that “Palestinian society faces collapse” if this situation continues.
On 18/5/06, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued a ‘Call for Support’ which will provide resources towards an appeal launched by the Palestine Red Crescent for $9.3 million which is needed to continue their critical relief services for the next six months. External subsidy accounts for 85% of the Palestinian national income which pays the salaries of 150,000 public sector employees. Since January, none of these employees have been paid.
The funding crisis compounds the already dire situation in Bethlehem. Last month the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem (a body representing all the main Christian churches) said “it is not permitted to boycott a people on whom oppressions and injustices were and are imposed……we appeal to the international community to seize the opportunity of this phase in history of the conflict in order to try seriously to put an end to the suffering of our land and of all its inhabitants.” (http://www.jerusalem-patriarchate.org/en/news/eidiseis.asp)
The United Conference of Catholic Bishops (USA) stated that withholding aid “places road blocks to a two-state solution to the conflict, impairs relationships with non-Hamas moderate Palestinian leaders, and seriously compromises aid programs by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing assistance to the Palestinian people.”
Open Bethlehem director, Leila Sansour states: “Bethlehem is imprisoned by a wall which separates us from our farmland, our water supplies and our fellow countrymen. We are resisting this attempt to erase us from history, but we feel isolated and abandoned. The sanctions exacerbate the crisis as our hospitals run out of medicine and we are plunged into a man-made humanitarian disaster. We ask the international community and all who care aboutBethlehem, to support us at this extremely difficult time.”
At the national rally on Saturday 20th May, Open Bethlehem joined the voices of thousands across the political and religious spectrum calling for a humane and moral response to this humanitarian crisis.
Bethlehem: Carol Dabdoub 2741241 ext 2470 or 0545439841
London: Leila Sansour: 07814 937743 Charlotte Carson: 020 7222 8443/ 07768 305897
Open Bethlehem is a civil society initiative established to respond to the state of emergency in Bethlehem as the wall is going up turning a city that resonates with millions of people around the world into a 21st century prison.