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Christmas 2002

An invitation from Bethlehem

As an American religious who has served in Palestine for 12 years, I would like to ask my fellow Americans to become much better informed about what is really going on in Israel/Palestine.

Because the United States provides far more financial support to Israel than to any other country in the world, Americans must take a major responsibility for the policies of Israel, especially its policy with regard to the illegal occupation of Palestine, which has now continued for 35 years.

I would like to draw the attention of my fellow Americans to the policy of the current Israeli government which, using the guise of responding to terrorism (for which its occupation is responsible) to piece by piece take over the entire Palestinian territory, new settlement by new settlement, new road by new road, house by house, olive grove by olive grove, until the entire land has been incorporated into Israel. Talk of transfer of the Palestinian population to other countries (read ethnic cleansing) is becoming more and more common in the Israeli press.

By portraying the response of Palestinians to the state-sponsored terrorism that Israel has inflicted on them as the cause, not the effect, Israel has managed to keep the attention of the world focused on Israeli suffering while using the conflict as an opportunity to step-by-step complete the incorporation of all of the land of historical Palestine into Israel. Of course Israel denies such a policy, but the long-term strategy of creating “facts on the ground” over the past 35 years makes its real intention extremely clear. Just look at a map.

I call on Americans citizens to take the time to learn what is really going on and to demand that their representatives take steps to end the occupation of Palestine, which is obviously the only real way to peace for Israel as well.

I would love to be able to invite Americans to come to Bethlehem for this Christmas and spend a few days in the town of Jesus’ birth. It takes very little time in Bethlehem for a person to become convinced of the real situation here. The only problem is that visitors are not permitted into Bethlehem because Israel has declared it a “closed military area.” As 2,000 years ago, there is no room for visitors in Bethlehem.

Brother Neil Kieffe

Brother Neil Kieffe, a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, is a native of St. Joseph, Mo. He is vice president for academic affairs at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, West Bank.

National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002