Yes – You Can in Bethlehem!

 

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

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.

Your friend,
Steve

About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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20 Responses to Yes – You Can in Bethlehem!

  1. Rick Garland says:

    Great reflection, Steve!

  2. this is the best yet, Steve! it is so alive ….

  3. Kendall says:

    Thanks.

  4. Jack Spencer says:

    Thanks Steve – If only Obama would take you up. They need to see live as it is not just photo opps

  5. kbardswich says:

    I’m currently at the Echenberg Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Fragility of Freedom at McGill University (http://efchr.mcgill.ca/2013/eng/home.php) as one of 24 young leaders from 22 countries. Interestingly, we haven’t yet spoken about Israel and Palestine, so I’m going to post this on our Facebook wall.

  6. Debbie Hubbard says:

    Thanks Steve…..living stones…I could literally see them as you described them.
    Debbie

  7. 4justpeace says:

    Poignant, Steve! I would add my name, too, as an EA living in Bethlehem in the fall of 2012 and as a dual Canadian/US citizen. I encourage you to send this letter to the White House. Yes, you can! Why not? I certainly wish Obama would go through the CP on his way back to Jerusalem. He could stop oiff at Ayda Camp on the way. It would give him a different vantage point than he will get from the helicopter!

  8. shirley k says:

    HI Steve, Right( Write) on. !!! s.k.

  9. Maida says:

    Great message to the man!
    I was an EA in Tulkarm in the group before you, and I know Majdi from a year back – please say hi to him from Maida from Norway (and Bosnia). And tell him all my glasses that I bought from him broke in shipping, so I will have to come back for new ones 🙂

  10. Joan & Hugh Donald says:

    Your message to President Obama should be printed in every newspaper in the world and viewed on every television screen as well. For many people, this is one of the first “hand’s on” discussions of the reality of life in modern Bethlehem. May God continue to protect and guide you in your inspirational work in this far off land.

  11. Pingback: A letter from Bethlehem to President Obama | EA Stories4Peace

  12. Jennifer Henry says:

    Excellent–a privilege to read!

  13. Paul Burns says:

    Hi Steve. I think it was very nice of you to extend the invitation to the President. Please note, if you see a number of large men wearing dark suits and sunglasses seemingly talking to their collars, then blend into the crowd. Of course being a 6’3″ white guy may make that a bit tougher but I know you will figure something out. If all else fails, serpentine. That always works and they may think you are a CIA mole. Keep the faith, bro.

  14. Yvette Swan says:

    Excellent Blog Steve. If only President Obama would read it and act on it.

  15. Roland says:

    Very good. I’m sure he can. Maybe he doesn,t think he is sort of allowed to.

  16. Bob C says:

    In the news we only hear about the “politics” of this conflict. And that news is only about what the powerful want us to hear. Your messages, and particularly this one, puts a human face on the pain and suffering that lies at the heart of it all.

  17. R Cunningham says:

    ‘Complicated’ can make us think ‘impossible’. What small, welcome, well-placed crack might your letter to President Obama generate?

  18. Andrew says:

    Thanks Steve. I gather you and Obama didn’t get a chance to talk in person?

  19. Boyd Drake says:

    Thank you, Steve for this post. I have been reading and reflecting on all your posts and your experiences. So well done, so eloquent, so passionate, so faithful. In such a complicated place and such a complicated time, your voice is refreshing. Peace…

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