If you take a look around Bethlehem, one is bound to be shocked by the choking reality this city has been forced to endure. Surrounded by 22 Israeli settlements and extremist settlers, its land shrunk to a mere 13% of its original size because of the encroaching reality of Israeli unilateralism; For first time in 2000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements and racist walls and checkpoints.
Bethlehem’s landscape, heritage and social fabric are besieged and under threat. Yet, Bethlehem shall remain, as it has remainedfor over 2000 years, a city that emanates hope and peace to humanity. Because Bethlehem’s identity as the birthplace of Christ is not just a matter of history and faith; it is an identity and heritage Palestine is proud to have.
We celebrate Bethlehem, a city where world heritage sites abound and where the will to live in pride and dignity has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our daily reality under a brutal occupation tests our faith in humanity every day. But we overcome, always. That is why Bethlehem is a success story of whichPalestine is deeply proud. For despite the apartheid regime of the colonial wall, illegal settlements, and oppression, the citizens of Bethlehem continue to persevere.
In Bethlehem, we resist oppression with love, we defy oppression with pride; we build the institutions of our state and develop our infrastructure despite the occupation’s machinery of destruction. With hope and unshakable faith in our rights to national freedom and prosperity, we unmask the ugliness of racism and humiliation through life, prayers, and art.
Perhaps there is no brighter example of the power of hope and faith than that of the non-violent mobilization of BeitJala residents, who continue to resist Israel’s campaign of land confiscation and wall construction in their town, which now threatens the Cremisan area. Every Friday afternoon they conduct prayers amidst the same olive trees that Israel plans to confiscate to build the illegal Wall; trees that have been harvested for centuries by 58 Palestinian Christian families. And every Friday, the number of people from across Palestine and beyond attending this prayer grows, their message of hope and strength resonating beyond the confines of Israel’s wall regime. I call upon all of you, to listen to their prayers and help stop yet another impending injustice.
This year will be remembered as the year that Palestine was recognized as a State with overwhelming support. We are presenting the world with a moment of truth: our continuing bid for freedom and for full UN membership is an opportunity for the international community to do right by Palestine and grant it its long overdue right to a future of freedom and prosperity. The world has long pledged support for the two-state solution. We went to the world, represented by the UN, to translate this pledge into a reality.
With hope, we have preserved our homeland and rights from crushing defeat by the might of a military occupation that denies us our most basic rights. With your support, we can save the two-state solution and build for a better future, where hope can finally bloom into prosperity – not just preserve a nation’s identity. Here, I would like to thank the 133 countries that took the courageous step of recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders. To them I say, you have stood on the right side of history, by taking a step that vindicates justice and protects peace. We call upon the rest of the world to follow suit and bring peace close to realization.
Ladies and gentlemen, Christians from all over the world and distinguished pilgrims visiting our country. When you enter Bethlehem you enter either through the Wall or Israeli military checkpoint.
Those who have lived the Bethlehem experience have been welcomed, as always, by the hospitality of our people. Many of you have supported this community through your invaluable assistance and cooperation. And because we value your investment in Bethlehem’s future, we call on you all to invest in peace and take the necessary courageous political action; with your help, we can ensure that next Christmas, we can be free from the bitterness of a life shackled by injustice and oppression. For next Christmas, Palestine wishes to experience the timeless message of Love, Justice, and Peace that the Prince of Peace brought to Palestine and humanity more than 2000 years ago, not just hope for its realization.