Message from the Popular Committees in the District of Bethlehem
We know you are here to engage in an activity that seeks to promote peace and reconciliation between us and our Israeli neighbors. Peace is something that we all want and seek, but this particular event will not move us one step forward. Here are just three of the many reasons:
1. Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) do not have the freedom of movement from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for religious, sports or any other activity. We are restricted with "permits" that are only given to a select few and this is much worse than the "permit" system in Apartheid South Africa. The event you are participating in is presented as if this is not an issue and you do not challenge in it the fact that you as visitors have more freedom of movement than the local population. You need to ask yourself: why canít all Palestinians run with us? Why canít all Palestinian Christians pray in Jerusalem? Why were only a few selected?
2. The Israeli military and government are now engaging in massive theft of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area to build the illegal wall and the illegal settlements. As you do your sport event, bulldozers are at work uprooting olive trees, destroying homes and livelihoods. This is true even here in the Bethlehem district as we now have access to less than 20% of the original district size and this is slated to be less than 13%. This is land that belongs to Christian and Muslim families that is being stolen now. Your event in many ways normalizes this by suggesting there is parity and a desire for "peace" (without defining what this means) between two "sides". This is not a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians but between those who rob and steal land and impose apartheid colonial policies and people of good conscience who resist these policies (and that includes Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals).
3. Your event occurs next to two of the refugee camps in Bethlehem (Azza and Aida). There are nearly 7 million Palestinian refugees and displaced people as a result of Israel's colonial activities in the past 62 years. For you to ignore this massive ethnic cleansing and the poverty and destitution it created is like having a sport event next to an active concentration camp in Eastern Europe.
4. Your event shows your move from Bethlehem to Jerusalem as if it is a move between two countries, Palestine and Israel. You will be meted with an official delegation from the Israeli government as if you have crossed a country border. This is a lie. Areas you will move through from Bethlehem to Jerusalem are areas that were occupied in 1967 and are considered under international law occupied Palestinian territories subject to the 4th Geneva convention. Your event thus recognizes Israeli control over these areas as somehow legitimate and that you are crossing a border between two countries, which strengthens the occupation.
5. In 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism began an international media campaign to promote tourism to Israel. Unlike the past, this ministry made up of extreme elements has completely wiped the West Bank and any Palestinian areas (including Bethlehem) from their materials. These are the people you will be meeting on the other side, people who do not even recognize that we exist as humans. These are individuals who have promoted ethnic cleansing and continue to do so. You will be strengthening the grip of this right wing extremist government,
These are some points from many that we can argue why this event does not move peace forward. We ask you to reconsider this event the way or the way it is organized. It is important that you protest the occupation and the destruction of Palestinian land. Bethlehem is now living under its worst siege ever and this event only shows the world that everything is ok and the Israeli government will abuse this event to show that. We ask you to have a strong voice calling for the end of the occupation in order for real peace to take place. Do not join the Israeli athletes, do not accept the presence of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, stand with the people of Bethlehem and call for freedom of all to pray in and run to Jerusalem.
Talk to us if you want to work with Palestinians and Israelis who are working hand in hand to end the occupation and to implement International law including on the rights of refugees to return to their homes and lands.
Popular Committees representing the villages and towns of Bethlehem