As described by town residents, Ha'aretz, Ma'an News, and other sources in recent days, Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived on February 10 at a family recreation park in Beit Sahour – a town slightly east of Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the site of the former army base Osh Grab, which was abandoned by the IDF in 2006 – and declared it a closed military zone.
KAIROS Palestine condemns this action and calls upon churches worldwide to advocate for the Christians and all residents of Beit Sahour and intervene in the damage, present and projected, wrought upon their home.
Since 1967, Beit Sahour, one of the last Christian majority towns in the West Bank, has repeatedly lost land to the Jerusalem municipality and to the nearby settlement of Har Homa. Much of the remaining land was occupied by an Israeli military base, Osh Grab. After the army evacuated the base in 2006, the Beit Sahour municipality regained control of the land – largely private plots and some public ones. (That said, all of the land remained part of what Israel calls Area C, keeping it under harsh regulation by the Israeli State.) The municipality renovated the public land, built a recreational park and playground – the "Peace Park" – and was planning to build a hospital as well.
Over time, fanatical Jewish settler groups have often threatened to take over the site, protested there as part of their aggressive claim as its "true" owners, and even physically vandalized the park, as they did last month. As it stands, Israel's stated intention is to build a new watchtower: a troubling reassertion of a military presence in Beit Sahour. The other worry is that this could pave the way for a new settlement, which nearby settlers have been demanding for years. As Amira Hass writes in Ha'aretz, "The Beit Sahour residents have no reason to doubt either the settlers or the Har Homa neighborhood committee chairman, who declared that 'This could become a reality, just as Har Homa spilled beyond what was planned and expected.'"
Either way, this new display of control on the part of the State – arriving with bulldozers, excavating the site around the park, prohibiting the entry of the Beit Sahour residents and various internationals who came to protest, declaring the land a closed military zone – is a grave affront. It is painful and unjust for some reasons of specific import to Christians (who form 80% of Beit Sahour); others are simply questions of humanity and legality, crucial for both Christians and Muslims.
First, the park area lies between two sacred sites: "Shepherds Field" and the place, as told in the Bible, where Boaz fell in love with Ruth. These are places of immense spiritual significance, and the State's commandeering of the land is profoundly distressing. (As we wrote in the Kairos Document, "freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security.") Second, the takeover is yet another example of the way Israeli occupation displaces us, divorces us from our basic rights of mobility and autonomy, and enforces a divisive view of human interaction that perverts the Word of God and the love and compassion it calls us to.
We request the solidarity of churches in the international community: to support us, to intervene in this latest encroachment on Beit Sahour and prevent it from continuing, and to speak out against the occupation in all such instances. We ask individuals and communities worldwide to contact Israeli officials and condemn their actions, to write the mayor of Beit Sahour and express support, and engage in other such forms of outreach and network-building.
As we make these requests, we quote again from the KAIROS Document itself to remind ourselves and each other of what is at stake and what we must call for:"
Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or theological question only…[w]e suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians."
And finally: "We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…and distort [s] the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice."
Please join KAIROS Palestine in condemning these oppressive actions in Beit Sahour and working to restore the justice that is both our calling and our right.
We ask you to call and write to Israeli officials in order to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, prevent settlers from attacking the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement in the site.
Please make appeals to:
[Ehud Barak] Minister of Defense, Ministry of Defense,
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940
Salutation: Dear Minister
Israeli Ambassador in your respective country
Copy to the:
Mayor of Beit Sahour
Kairos Palestine: www.kairospalestine.ps
KAIROS Palestine is a group of Palestinian Christians who authored "A Moment of Truth" – Christian Palestinian's word to the world about the occupation of Palestine, an expression of hope and faith in God, and a call for solidarity in ending over six decades of oppression – and published it in 2009.