Dear President Obama,
It is great you will be visiting the Church of the Nativity here in Bethlehem. What an incredible place! I love to sit near it, sip coffee and contemplate what the stone walls have witnessed over the past 1700 plus years.
I do hope you can alter your schedule a little so you can visit the most amazing stones, the “living stones”, the people of this area. Their stories are truly inspiring in the face of hardship n. I know some of your people will probably resist but – YES – YOU CAN!
I would like for you to meet Madji. He is a local shop owner. Since the construction of the wall his business is down by about 66%. Since the last conflict in Gaza it has dropped by half again.
I would love for you to meet George, my landlord. George has five Olive trees next to our house in Bethlehem. He had another 50 trees in a different field but the land was confiscated and is now in the hands of settlers.
You should really meet Raba. He lives in the nearby village of Nahhalin. Two weeks ago, 80 of his families 240 olive trees were cut, presumably by settlers. He and 17 other related families relied on those trees as their first source of income. I know he started to replant trees last week. Maybe we could give him a hand with the replanting. In 15 years we could return and help him with his first harvest. I hope to be retired by then and I suspect you will be too! Wouldn’t it be fun and meaningful to come back for that?
It would be great for you to meet Ameen. He leaves his house at 2 am to be at Check Point 300 for 3 am so he can sell coffee to the 4000 men who go through the line on their way to work in Israel. He would prefer to be one of those guys but when he was a teenager he threw some rocks and ended up in prison for a year. Seventeen years later he and his wife are expecting their fourth child. Seventeen years later he is still blacklisted.
There are many men in the Check Point line I would like for you to meet. All of them are at least 26 years old, married and have children. I know this because in order to get a work permit those are the minimum qualifications. Strange qualifications don’t you think?
It would be meaningful if you could meet Udai Sarham. He is a 16 year old boy who was shot in the temple by the Israeli military here in Bethlehem a couple of weeks ago. I understand he has just been discharged from neurological intensive care. If he is still unable to speak maybe we could visit his Grandmother who while he has been hospitalized in Jerusalem has slept either in a chair or on the floor of a waiting room because nobody made provisions for her to stay with him.
I would love to introduce you to these good folks and so many more. I know exactly what their first words to you will be – because they greet everyone in the same way, “You are welcome!”
So Mr. President, send me an email or have your people call me and I will be happy to arrange for you to meet some of these people on Friday.
Maybe we could drop in to a new restaurant, Banksy’s for a falafel platter. The owner is a Canadian born in Palestine who has a Canadian passport. He can use it to travel any place in the world – except between Palestine and Israel. I suspect the same is true for some Americans.
I look forward to hearing from you.