Bethlehem Facing Another Sad Christmas

Missionaries' Message Highlights the Misery and Confinement

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, DEC. 16, 2002 (Zenit.org).- While the military occupation of Bethlehem continues, the missionaries of the Caritas Baby Hospital made an urgent appeal for the world to remember the residents of this "cage-city."



In the context of the Christmas celebration, the Isabelina Franciscans of Padua, who run the hospital, sent a message to the Roman Work of Pilgrimages.

"Bethlehem is dying from the indifference of the whole Christian world," they explain in their appeal. "The fate of this city is to pay, and pay again for those who sow death: condemned to a massive punishment, we live like prisoners, like caged animals, and we eat thanks to humanitarian organizations."

"We are not in a city of terrorists to merit this continual and brutal repression," the Franciscans said. "We are in a humiliated, extenuated city already reduced to a mortal cage, trampled by endless violence.

"With only a few days left before Christmas, here, in Bethlehem, we no longer know what it means to celebrate. Misery reigns in our deserted streets, invaded by filth. From the tanks, today too, like yesterday and the day before, the soldiers cry out the orders of the Israeli army: 'Curfew. It is prohibited to go out!' Today we are still prisoners."

"How can we remain indifferent? How can silence be maintained? How can they keep us enslaved, confining us to our homes as to a tomb, impeding us from moving about freely in our city, depriving our children of school for such a long time?" they ask.

The Caritas Baby Hospital was built thanks to the Swiss-German Caritas.

The occupation of Bethlehem began on Nov. 22, a few hours after a Palestinian -- who had left this city -- carried out a massacre in a bus in nearby Jerusalem.

The Israeli army has no plans to leave Bethlehem before Christmas, according to Radio Jerusalem.

An Israeli withdrawal is not possible at present because it would be "taken advantage of by hostile elements," explained the Israeli chief of staff, General Moshe Yaalon.

He said, however, that Israel will consent to the celebration of Christmas and to Christian Arabs' access to Bethlehem, both those who have Israeli citizenship as well as those who reside in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will not be permitted to attend Midnight Mass in Bethlehem.