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Welcome to Bethlehem, Secretary Kerry
Published Wednesday 06/11/2013 (updated) 23/11/2013 21:52
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Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun pictured in front of the Church
of the Nativity.

Dear Secretary Kerry,

You are most welcome to the holy city of Bethlehem. It is an honor for me, as the mayor of Bethlehem, to welcome you on your most recent trip to our occupied homeland, in order to achieve the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. The nobility of your goal makes me extremely proud of your visit, and particularly because Bethlehem serves for many as an eye-opener.

Our biblical city could be one of the driving forces for our state. Just to give you an example: The distance between the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is only 10 kilometers, and a highway would link us with the Dead Sea in less than 20 minutes. However, Palestinian control in Bethlehem has been reduced to 13 percent of the district. The rest of our land has been taken either by Israeli settlers or by a foreign army. In fact, just as when Vice President Joe Biden visited back in 2010, some hours before your arrival, Israel approved hundreds of new housing units for settlements around our besieged city. This approval included units in Gilo and Har Homa, both built on our land with the goal of severing the historic connection between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Secretary Kerry, just as our city received Joseph and Mary more than 2,000 years ago, in 1948 Bethlehem received waves of refugees expelled from their homes in the Jerusalem area. Today they live mainly in three refugee camps in and around the city: Duheisha, al-Azza and Aida. Many have held onto the keys of their original homes for generations. Their keys, dear secretary, are not a symbol of revenge, but a call for humanity. They reflect an open wound that will only heal with the restoration of their dignity through the respect of their right to choose their future.

Secretary Kerry, we are a nation of refugees. We all have been victims of Israeli policies of forced displacement and replacement with foreign settlers by the State of Israel. This war crime must be stopped in order to give peace a chance. Today, while foreign settlers continue to flow into our district, thousands of daughters and sons of Bethlehem are spread all over the world, in places as far flung as Australia, Chile and the US, all of them denied right to return to their homeland. This is morally unacceptable.

Dear Secretary, we have heard about your economic projects for Palestine. They seem to be very positive and the people of Bethlehem are grateful for the attention you have given to our city. But please allow me to reiterate that no true economic development is possible as far as Israel continues its occupation of our country. As the World Bank confirmed a few weeks ago, we continue to lose billions of dollars because of the Israeli occupation.

Once we are free we are ready to develop our state just as successful Palestinian professionals have helped to develop the economies of wherever they have lived. Now it is their time to freely develop their own country without any foreign intervention. It is Palestine’s time to reach her potential, beginning with freedom of movement, and genuine sovereignty, including control over our international borders. In our case, Secretary Kerry, the same wall that you will come through to enter our city must fall in order to revitalize our historic ties with East Jerusalem, our national capital.

In Bethlehem we resist the occupation with love and hope. I hope you will have the chance to participate in one of the weekly Catholic masses that our community organizes at Cremisan; a time where we pray against the latest expropriation orders that will leave 58 Palestinian Christian families without access to their lands in one of the last green areas left in our district. I hope you might also find time to witness the steadfastness of the people of Walaja, a community that was originally displaced in 1948 and that today is being completely encircled by the Israeli annexation wall. Perhaps you might see the peaceful demonstrations of the people of Maasara, who are violently repressed by Israeli occupation forces, or the advocacy work of the people of Artas, Khirbet Nakhle and the southern Bethlehem area against new plans to expand the settlement of Efrat on their lands.

Dear Secretary Kerry, you are most welcome in Bethlehem, a city surrounded by 27 ever-expanding Israeli settlements, sealed off by an annexation wall built deep inside our district’s land. Even under these circumstances, we are working hard to look after our city. The restorations to the Nativity Church supported by UNESCO after Palestine obtained full membership in the organization, is another great example of how, in Bethlehem, we defy the occupation with love and creativity. Dear Secretary Kerry, you are most welcome to our city, please feel at home.


Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem
1 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
06/11/2013 14:15
May Secretary Kerry appreciate and heed the words of this welcome. The occupation must end if the negociations he sponsors are to make any significant headway. There can be no compromising on this basic point, the starting point for addressing all the others.

2 ) Mise Eire / Ireland
06/11/2013 15:04
Thank you Mrs Badoun for this concise letter outlining the on-going impact of Western backed Zionist colonisation of from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea since 1948.
If only America knew!

3 ) Abuna Rainer, Straubing / Germany
06/11/2013 20:38
Dear Mrs Baboun, since more then 17 years my heart is at home in Bethlehem. 6 weeks a year im there with my pilgrim groups and in my holidays. So i know the situation very well. Shukran and thank you very much for this words to Mr Kerry. They are great. You are talking about the realtity of the occupation in and arroud Bethlehem and in Palestine. Its great to talk about the people of Al Masara and Walajeh, about Cremisan. I have many times concelebratet. Tell the people the truth. Abuna Rainer

4 ) EDDIE / U S A
06/11/2013 22:18

5 ) Zainab / UK
07/11/2013 00:06
@2) Mise Eire - America's too busy with NSA to worry about what's going on in Palestine, or even in the town where the pivot of the Christian faith was born. Amazing really, they spend an absolute fortune at Christmas, yet seem to have forgotten what the whole thing is really all about. Still, that's modern life, when you can spy on your friends & neighbours, why worry too much about ever diminishing Palestine. You know the UK was the only country exempt from being spied on, not sure about Eire!

6 ) Dee Poujade / USA
07/11/2013 00:09
I would love to know that Secretary Kerry actually READS this letter - but the cynic in me who lived with the Occupation for three months this spring has grave doubts!!

7 ) Cliff Bennett / USA:-)
07/11/2013 05:41
Ms. Baboun, I welcome reading your letter to Secretary Kerry. As a member of the Burlington VT/Bethlehem/Arad Sister City, I was sad you were not able to visit us in Vermont during your trip to Washington DC. Yet I and other Vermonters were very pleased that business people wanted to spend time with you. We look forward to meetingbyou during a future trip. Personally it was fun to bring my friends up to date as they learned the current Mayor of Bethlehem is a woman.

8 ) Charlie Fleifel / Palestine
07/11/2013 06:24
Thank you Mayor .

9 ) Bob / Canada
07/11/2013 07:04
But Mary and Joseph were Jews in a Jewish city called Bethlehem. How does it become Palestinian?

10 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
07/11/2013 11:34
Hebrews, Philistines, Aramaeans, Edomites, Samaritans and other peoples all lived in ancient Palestine. Herod the Great, the king of Judea from 37 to 3 BC, was a typical mix - son of an Arab princess and an Edomite. Bethlehem was part of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which was in the Roman province of Syria. Caesarea was its capital. Recommended reference : "The Invention of Ancient Israel - the Silencing of Palestinian History" by Keith W. Whitelaw.

11 ) @ Bob / Canada / PS
07/11/2013 16:11
I recommend reading the Invention of the Land of Israel, by Shlomo Sand

12 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
07/11/2013 21:54
Or - enjoy an entertaining 6 minute video just released today. And smile ! http://electronicintifada.net/tags/visualizing-palestine

13 ) Outlier / USA
08/11/2013 00:11
Welcome to peace negotiations, Bethlehem. The mayor should support them, because not supporting them likely means another 45 years of the current situation.

14 ) Sylvia Flefel / Palestinian Territory
08/11/2013 07:03
Thank You Mrs Baboun very well said.Thank you again.

15 ) Haifa Jackaman / Palestine
08/11/2013 08:11
Well said Mayor, so proud of you!

16 ) ian / australia
08/11/2013 14:05
#9 "But Mary and Joseph were Jews in a Jewish city called Bethlehem. How does it become Palestinian?" The same way the lands of the First Nations became Canadian, Bob. Or Aboriginal land Australian. Things change. Britain was Celt, Roman, Saxon and Norman. France was Gaul, Roman, Frankish, Merovingian, Carolingian etc. Before the appearance of the monolatristic cult to the deity Jehovah, Bethlehem was Canaanite, ruled by Egypt, and worshipped Lachmo, a fertility god, in a Bronze Age temple!

17 ) ian / australia
08/11/2013 14:08
(contd.) It was Judean, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman and British. "How does it become Palestinian?" ...well, it's Palestine because since the end of the Mandate, and in effect, the Colonial Era, by natural rights, it belongs to the people who live there who call themselves Palestinians and legally, it sure ain't Israel.

18 ) Tex [fr] / Mex
08/11/2013 15:27
Israel is building on 'disputed land'. No current Arabs in Judea & Samaria have 'deeds' to the 'disputed land', for they are arabs who are either descendants of the serfs who worked the land for absentee ottoman-turk landlords, OR they are arabs who have come as refugees from 1 of the 22 other arab countries who didn't want them as citizens - including the Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and the 600-254=346 villagers from Deir Yassin! Stop rewriting His Story. You weren't there to document it.

19 ) ian / australia
08/11/2013 23:55
#18 "Israel is building on 'disputed land'." The majority opinion is that beyond the '67 line it's "occupied" land and that Israel building on it and preventing Palestinians from building on it is a war crime. "No current Arabs in Judea & Samaria have 'deeds' to the 'disputed land'..." Really? The UN recognises Palestinians as a people with a state called Palestine in an ongoing war with a rapacious neighbour about where the border is. "...they are arabs who are either descendants of the serfs

20 ) ian / australia
08/11/2013 23:56
(contd.) who worked the land for absentee ottoman-turk landlords, OR they are arabs who have come as refugees from 1 of the 22 other arab countries who didn't want them as citizens" Interesting Tex. Of course you presuppose the land was evacuated by the Romans, emptied of human life, then repopulated by Arabs, but is that likely? Current thinking is that Judean peasants in all likelihood stayed and converted to the beliefs of the ruling powers. (Are you falling behind with the reading?)

21 ) ian / australia
08/11/2013 23:58
(contd.) "Stop rewriting His Story. You weren't there to document it." This from a Deir Yassin apologist.

22 ) hariri / CH
10/11/2013 04:26
i Hope the setlers agrees

23 ) Dr. Hanna Y Tushyeh / Palestine
10/11/2013 13:03
Well-said, Mayor Baboun, and thank you.

24 ) Giacomo / USA
12/11/2013 18:16
Dear M. Baboun, you're most welcome to your opinion, but facts do remain that military occupation by Israel in the WB is the result of, not the cause of, continuing hostility by Palestinians to the Jews of Israel. Some of your 'brothers/sisters' in leadership still actively call for the destruction of Israel, and it's disingenuous to characterize your protests as all peaceful. In fact, you've been unable to even achieve peace among yourselves. So, compel your leaders to negotiate peace. John

25 ) @24 / ..........
13/11/2013 08:20

26 ) r cummings / UK
14/11/2013 14:42
24) - What nonsense. The Israeli military occupation of the West Bank has been utilised by Israel from day 1 to steal land and water in pursuit of a greater colonial Israel populated by increasing numbers of rabid fanatical Jews. In essence, the policy is no different from that pursued by Milosevic and indeed Hitler, the seizure and clearance of other people's lands and their repopulation by a favoured ethnic group. Only a rabid Zio would then blame the victims: it's the Jews who are at fault.

27 ) Anne / Spain
14/11/2013 20:12
Superb welcome speech, Ms. Baboun, I hope as many such message pierce the ears, touch the heart and activate the spirit of justice in MR. Kerry and we will be a less dishonest broker than his predecessors.

28 ) Carol Scheller / Switzerland
16/11/2013 11:49
24: Palestinians are not hostile to the Jews of Israeli : they are outraged by the illegal occupation by the government of Israel and all its concomittents. The people who live in Palestine do not want to destroy the country of Israel or harm the people who live in Israel. They simply want the basic human rights Israelis take for granted. Every detail of their life at this moment is under the heel of the Israeli occupation. They need to breathe.

29 ) southparkbear / usa
16/11/2013 15:44
if you ask the mayor, best grooming in town

30 ) Tissa / Sri Lanka
21/11/2013 06:51
Dear Vera. Great letter. Keep on fighting.Bethlehem needs Mayors like you.

31 ) red / USA
27/11/2013 22:19
No room in the inn John, you'll have to stay in the manger - hail Caesar!

32 ) southparkbear / usa
01/12/2013 08:13
i second tissa #30, Baboon is a great mayor
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