John Roberts on Bethlehem

What follows is a preliminary report from John and Kathy Roberts on their trip to Bethlehem as part of the delegation.

Subject: Report on trip to Bethlehem

Kathy and I are back from our trip to Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine. We went to help establish an on-going People to People Project between Cambridge and Bethlehem, a city being surrounded and choked by Israel's separation wall. We spent an entire week establishing contacts with students, teachers, theater people, municipal officials, business leaders, college educators, folks in the refugee camps, dancers, human rights workers, and activists. We hope that through future delegations and video-conferencing to link such Bethlehemites with Cantabridgians.

Although we thought we were prepared to face the devastation of the separation wall for the Palestinian people, we found ourselves continually shocked by the reality of the Israeli plan to use the construction of the wall to continue the theft of land in the West Bank. There is no way that Israel can make the case that this is just a "security barrier". If security was the issue the wall would have been legally built on the internationally recognized 1967 border called the Green Line. But the wall snakes through the West Bank to protect illegal Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land, and creates the opportunity to confiscate more land for future Israeli roads and settlements. It separates Palestinians from their agricultural lands and enables countless checkpoints to be established to contain Palestinians within the confines of the wall and impede travel between villages. The most striking exposure of the Israeli plan is the construction of the wall through some Palestinian villages that do not separate Palestinians from Israelis, but Palestinians from each other. One such village we visited in East Jerusalem divides the village in half with the wall literally running down the main street of the village. This provides security for no one, but does allow for future confiscation of land by Israel when Palestinians are forced to "abandon" their homes and land if they are on the "wrong" side of the wall. Similarly, the wall around Bethlehem places the agricultural and open field areas of Bethlehem outside the wall leaving the olive and citrus groves vulnerable for future expansion of israeli settlements and denying Palestinian farmers their livelihood. The Zionist vision is that Palestinians will give up and somehow leave the West Bank, thus allowing Israel to exist from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

But that is not about to happen. Faced with the overwhelming power of the Israeli military supported by the United States, the Palestinian people have only their will to resist by staying and growing on their land, and challenging Israeli expansion by building their institutions and maintaining their way of life to the best of their ability. The Cultural Center in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem refer to this as "the beautiful resistance". Students at Bethlehem University struggle every day to get to classes, having to allow two hours each morning and each afternoon to clear checkpoints, but see this commitment to their education as an act of beautiful resistance. Attorney's at Bethlehem's Esan Center file law suits challenging the confiscation of land, the building of the wall, house demolitions, and human rights abuses, not because they think they will win in the biased Israeli court system (they rarely do ), but because they see law suits as costly delays of the expansion. Such law suits are acts of beautiful resistance. Non violent demonstrations at the wall and other places are often brutally broken up by the Israeli military, but continue not because they are immediately "successful" at stopping Israeli expansion, but because these demonstrations are acts of peaceful resistance. When you cannot match the power of your occupier you find ways to resist in order to wear down the occupier and make the occupation costly and painful. Such resistance and the appeal to international law is the strategy Palestinians are now employing. They intend to grow and resist until Israel must one day realize that they are not going away and must be reckoned with. It is a strategy that will take time, but one that even now is beginning bear fruit as many Israelis are coming to realize that the Zionist strategy to force the transfer of Palestinians out of Palestine will not and cannot work.

Time and resistance are the tools for survival. Time and resistance is the recipe for success. In time and resistance lies the hope for a just solution to the conflict. To the degree that we relate to the Palestinian people in this resistance, we support their hope. To the degree that we can help build their institutions through our people to people relationships, whether it be student to student, teacher to teacher, artist to artist, activist to activist, we support the resistance and help build for the future. We must understand that it will take time and not be discouraged. We must adopt the Palestinian time frame and not look for immediate success, nor be discouraged by having to take "the long view". If they are patient, we must be patient. If they are steadfast, we must be steadfast. What is important is that we not abandon them. What is important is that we stand with them. What is important is that through our people to people relationships we join them in their beautiful resistance by helping build the structures of a just and humane society and by finally joining them in unifying the land of Palestine by bringing down the wall of separation.