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Mayor Salman: Stop using Christians as a tool to whitewash occupation

Oct. 16, 2018 12:42 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 17, 2018 12:10 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statements on Bethlehem and the situation of Palestinian Christians, calling it "another Israeli attempt at distorting the reality of the Israeli occupation and particularly the effects that Israeli policies have had on the Palestinian Christian community since 1948."

Salman responded, on Monday, to Netanyahu's statements made during a speech at the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, a gathering of Christian journalists from around the world.

Netanyahu said "Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community thrives and grows," and criticized the treatment of Christians by the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu added "When Israel transferred control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1995, its Christian population was roughly 80%. Now it's about 20%. That change happened because in the PA areas, as well as throughout the Middle East, Christians are being constricted, pressured, persecuted."

Salman said in a statement issued by the Bethlehem municipality, that "If Mr. Netanyahu was concerned about the situation of Palestinian Christians, particularly in the Bethlehem area, he would return the 22,000 dunams (5,436 acres) of Bethlehem land illegally annexed to Israel for expansion of colonial settlements."

He continued "He (Netanyahu) would dismantle the annexation wall that divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem for the first time in 2000 years of Christianity and would stop imposing restrictions to Palestinian movement, including the thousand of Palestinian Christians living in exile and whose return is impossible due to the Israeli control over the Palestinian population registry."

He added "For example, in Jordan alone, a few kilometers away, there are at least 20,000 Palestinian Christians from the Bethlehem area that are denied family unification and even cannot enter the city, not even to celebrate Christmas, due to the Israeli military restrictions."

"We would like to remind Mr. Netanyahu that it was himself who supported the building of one of the most damaging colonial-settlements that surround Bethlehem, Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa), and that in 2015 he declared that by doing so he is preventing the connection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem."

Salman stressed "There are over 100,000 Israeli settlers surrounding Bethlehem from all sides, reducing the area of Palestinian control over Bethlehem to less than 13% of the district, and making it impossible to plan for the future of our city."

"Furthermore, it was Mr. Netanyahu who voiced objection to declaring the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route as a World Heritage site and his policies of harassment were behind the decision of the churches to close the church of the Holy Sepulcher for three days in Jerusalem in objection to church taxation policy."

"It is shameful that while calling himself a 'protector of Christianity,' he would use Christians as a tool for his Islamophobic talking points. The decrease in percentage of Christians in Bethlehem, as well as in the rest of Palestine, was provoked with the Nakba of 1948 and ongoing due to Israel's colonial plans and policies that started in 1967."

He said that from 31,000 Christians in 1948, Jerusalem only has around 12,000 Christians today.

"We would like to advise Mr. Netanyahu to stop using Christians as a tool to whitewash the occupation. The best he could do for a future of peace and coexistence, where the Christian community would thrive again, it is to respect his obligations under international law, including Security council resolutions 478 on Jerusalem and 2334 on settlements, dismantling illegal colonial-settlements and the annexation wall surrounding Bethlehem, including in the Cremisan Valley, fully end the occupation of Palestine and allow for the return of our people to their city.”

Salman noted "It is not the Palestinian government that prevents their return Mr. Netanyahu; It is your government."

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