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
And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,
As you are reminded that you are always being rooted and grounded in
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
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
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
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
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.
Minister of Tourism & Antiquities