Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Success! Bethlehem twins with local Sydney Council

The local Sydney council of Marrickville has now entered into a Sister City relationship with Bethlehem, occupied Palestinian city and birthplace of Christ.The Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Victor Batarseh and a delegation from Bethlehem are currently in Sydney to seal the deal and it was a pleasure to help welcome them with Sydney’s Palestinian community and many others in the general Middle East community here. (Next campaign: twinning Hebron with Leichhardt –thanks Alex).

In addition to the links below, the excellent Coalition for Peace and Justice in Palestine (CJPP) Sydney has more on the Sister Cities campaign.

Relevant local links:

Bethlehem-specific and -related posts:


Why are creating these people-to-people, community-to-community ties so important? They constitute direct links of friendship and solidarity and an opportunity to establish multiple cultural, civil and economic ties between towns that can often be independent of federal government policy.

And these exchanges are especially needed now. Bethlehem now has several — over 30 — such twinning arrangements around the world, in no small part due to its dedicated advocates impassioned about saving this beleaguered holy city. While Christians, Muslims and Jews have coexisted for centuries in Palestine, occupied Bethlehem is being subject to strangulation by the Israeli government: two thirds of the population in Bethlehem lives below the poverty line and unemployment is higher than 60%.

Last Christmas I noted the Mayor of Bethlehem’s words in his traditional Christmas season press conference, in which he said that

the birthplace of Jesus Christ is in its worst economic, political and tourist conditions in those 2,000 years. The dire situation is due to the procedures and practices of the occupation that continues to increase in severity in and around the city.

The so-called security fence on our land has forced large numbers of people to leave their homes and move. The conditions are so deplorable that the practices are clearly intended to vacate the land of its people.

The Apartheid Wall eats up a good deal of Bethlehem, isolating some 7,000 dunams of its territory that includes the entire northern region. The Wall has also now severed the single diocese of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Pilgrims cannot go from one to the other, despite the fact that they are only twenty minutes apart.

As Bethlehem Mayor Dr. Victor Batarseh testifies; “This has had a negative impact on everyone and a catastrophic effect on many. Hundreds of farmers have lost their lands and without that income the tourist industry becomes even more important, but that has suffered as well.”

In a recent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury who recently visited Bethlehem and condemned the Wall, Palestinian Bishop Riad Abu El Assal writes:

To us, the gentle coexistence of Christians and Muslims is a source of strength; indeed, we regard ourselves as a beacon to the wider Middle East and, through it, the rest of the world. The crisis facing Christians here is entirely due to the Israeli occupation, which, in recent years, has seen entire communities imprisoned behind the Israeli-built wall.

Leila Sansour of Open Bethlehem similarly writes:

… Christians and Muslims form a single community in Bethlehem. It is perhaps the most important lesson — after the incarnation itself — that Bethlehem can offer the world. We are a multifaith community in a region that needs more such examples. Muslims and Christians have lived alongside each other for centuries, and, if we are given the chance, we will continue to do so. We are not being squeezed out by Islamism, but by economic hardship as a result of annexation of land, and entrapment behind a wall whose existence shames humanity.

A UN report into Christianity in Bethlehem predicts that our community will not survive another two generations.

2 comments on “Success! Bethlehem twins with local Sydney Council

  1. ressentiment
    27 August, 2007

    Fantastic news, Ann. Keep up the good work. You Aussies renew my hope that civilization won’t fall on its face. I’m not optimistic you understand. I’m just conceding that progress is neck in neck with the forces that work against it.


  2. Ann El Khoury
    27 August, 2007

    :) The credit goes to the council members and Mayor of Marrickville, many of whom have spent years campaigning for this. We’re just delighted to add our voices of support and lend a hand wherever possible.

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"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
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of what is found there"
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