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International Conference

Shaping Communities in Times of Crisis 
Narratives of Land, Peoples and Identities

Words of Welcome

Munib Younan, Bishop (ELCJHL)

Sisters and brothers in Christ, salaam and grace to you! It is a great privilege for me to welcome you all to the conference: "Shaping Communities in the Time of Crisis: Narratives of Land, People and Identities." On behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and all of its churches, schools and ministries, on behalf of the Board of Dar-Annadwa and its staff, ah-lan wa-sahlan in Bethlehem and this Holy Land that gave birth to our faith and our identity as sisters and brothers in Christ. I hope that this conference will create fruitful discussion, deliberation and solid recommendations.

Shaping Communities in the Time of Crisis is a topic of vital importance not only for us here in Palestine but around our world. Issues such as globalization, environmental catastrophes, political conflicts, increasing militarization and occupation of one nation by another, are challenging all nations and peoples to re-examine who we are and how we should live with one another. The contexts may be different, but the foundational question is whether we can join together in our shared humanity to promote positive common values of human dignity, justice, freedom and a sharing of God's blessings.

This week, the conference will explore these issues through discussion, arts, music and visiting sites in the Palestinian context. You will see how harsh realities like the separation wall are impacting our identity and existence as Palestinians. The task for the week is large, but it is also merely a step in our ongoing journey as humanity's sisters and brothers seeking to shape our identities more and more toward the divine image in us all.

And so, I pray that during this week:
You may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God's spirit,
And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,
As you are reminded that you are always being rooted and grounded in love.



Dr. Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

On behalf of the Bethlehem City Council and on behalf of all the citizens of our holy town of peace, it is my pleasure to welcome each and everyone of you today to the public opening of this International Conference in Bethlehem with the participation of members of 23 countries coming from all over the world.

We look to your presence here at this time with joy, for we see in it a reflection of the interest of the international community in our plight at this critical moment in the history of our people. We also see in this gathering an opportunity to enhance the interconnectedness between the worldwide community and Palestine, thus empowering and serving the ever-dwindling Palestinian Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Such a conference in this city today is yet significantly important on other levels, namely the cultural exchange level as well as the economic level since it also serves our beleaguered tourism industry. By having this conference in this city, you help us lift up our town of Bethlehem as a light of peace, as it has been known for 2000 years since our Lord’s birth. Let me here from this podium take the opportunity to call upon all to follow your example by holding their conventions and meetings in Bethlehem. As you can see, Bethlehem is well equipped to host such gatherings and the city warmly welcomes such initiatives. Here, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the invaluable support, services and care that the International Center of Bethlehem is rendering to our Bethlehemite community and to our Palestinian people in general.

Our presence today as we address the topic ‘Lands, Peoples and Identities’ is very significant in itself. We are called to work together in unity to build bridges, to give hope for cultural exchange, in a manner which enriches the Palestinian heritage and the heritages of all represented here. Building bridges is the way to peace and understanding, for building walls has never been a sign of progress throughout human history.

We are sending today a message to all the political and spiritual leaders in the world to say that we as Palestinians on this spot of land are working for peace! Let us intensify our efforts to make Bethlehem a center for dialogue, understanding and hospitality!

Dear guests, our town of Bethlehem – the birthplace of the Prince of Peace risks today becoming a focus of tension and suffering rather than a universal symbol of peace. Throughout the past years, land confiscation and building of Israeli settlements have increased, causing a great loss to our town. The continuous closure of Bethlehem is strangling our movement and economy. However, the most dramatic development is the construction of the separation wall. The ugly wall, besides isolating Bethlehem from Jerusalem and the outside world, is snaking its way deep inside our municipal borders to encircle Rachel’s Tomb and the surrounding area in order to annex them to the so called “greater Jerusalem boundaries,” closing the main and the historic entrance to Bethlehem. Today we live in what is similar to a big prison. As a result, tourism, the main source of our income, has been seriously affected.

Unemployment in Bethlehem soared to 60% encouraging more emigration of our people. This situation reflected dramatically on Bethlehem municipality whose meager budget depends on basically the taxes and fees collected from the citizens. With lack of alternative resources and with the Palestinian National Authority not offering the required financing for Bethlehem that suits its needs and significance, we have reached a stage whereby the Bethlehem Municipality could not for the last months secure its running expenses, including the salaries and wages of our employees. We call upon all our partners and friends throughout the whole world to extend a land of support to their brethren in Bethlehem during this difficult time.

Dear guests, your presence with us today grants us extra courage and will to withstand and to proceed in our struggle for peace. We believe peace is the only solution. But peace should be based on justice and mutual respect. I should say that the Israeli occupation of our land is the only and the main obstacle in front of peace. We keep yearning to the day when this occupation ends to allow this Holy Land to enjoy lasting and comprehensive peace. Peace is liable to bring hope and light into the dark chambers of pessimism that overspreads our lives today and enable everybody to look into a brighter tomorrow.

We need your prayers and your support towards this noble cause. I welcome you once again and wish your conference the best of success.

HE Ziad Bandak
Minister of Tourism and Antiquities
Palestinian National Authority


Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to extend my deepest thanks and gratitude to the International Center of Bethlehem for giving me this great honor of being one of the Keynote speakers in this important Conference under the title of “Shaping Communities in Times of Crisis: Narratives of Land, People and Identities” and for giving me the chance to contribute in the achievement of the noble goals of this conference. I hope that this conference will reach consensus on ways to build a constructive and justice-oriented model to face crisis between societies.
I believe that such kind of conferences will contribute a lot not only to the economy of Bethlehem but also in bringing people from different backgrounds together to discuss issues that affect the lives of millions of people living in crisis.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think that having this conference in this part of the world is very important. Unfortunately, the Holy Land, the Land of the three monotheistic religions, the land of the prophets and of Jesus Christ has become the land of conflict, blood and misery. For more than 38 years Israel is occupying Palestine and taking measures and actions to make the life of the Palestinians miserable. Israel is also creating obstacles in the way of the peace process and the implementation of the Road Map. The illegal building of a Separation Wall around the Palestinian residential areas, on Palestinian land, has increased the suffering. This wall is violating Palestinians' right to move and travel. It is also destroying the Palestinian social structure and separating Palestinians from their lands and affecting their identity and above all destroying the Palestinian dream in building their own independent state.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip was a good step toward peace but it must be followed by serious steps from the Israeli Government to assure that Gaza Strip will not be transformed into a big prison and to guarantee Israeli withdrawal from all the Palestinian land according to the boarders before 1967.

Taking into consideration that Palestinian issue is a central issue not only for the peace in the middle east but also for the peace of world, we believe that the International community especially the United States and Europe should put pressure on Israel to give the Palestinian their own state and independence without any delay. You, representing the educated level of the world; theologians, biblical scholars, sociologists, pastors, artists, journalists, historians and philosophers could play an active role in this regard.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that we are in need of building bridges of dialogue between civilizations instead of building Concrete Walls. Concrete Walls will never bring security and peace but bridges of Dialogue will resolve crisis between nations in conflict. These bridges must have principles that can be concluded as follow:

1- Every nation has the right to have its freedom, independence and self determination.

2- Every nation must respect the human rights of other nations including the right to live, to move, to pray and the right to express itself …etc.

3- Every nation must respect the resolutions of the international community and the United Nation in particular.

4- There must be no double standards in the implementation of the international community resolutions.

I am very proud of the work of the International Center of Bethlehem and the efforts of Dr. Mitri Al-Raheb and the Lutheran Church to build this venue that can house international activities.

I wish your conference all the success and wish all our guests a nice stay in Bethlehem.

Ziad Al-Bandak
Minister of Tourism & Antiquities


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Last Updated November 8,  2005