By Peter Manning
In a meeting with three representatives of Friends of Bethlehem last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Bob Carr criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements on Palestinian land. He reminded the group that he had made a formal statement in April as Foreign Minister of Australia describing the actions of Israel as “counter-productive” to the peace process. “It got little Press coverage”, he said.
The representatives of Friends of Bethlehem were local Marrickville resident Peter Jennings (Secretary), Balmain resident Stewart Mills (executive member), and Dulwich Hill resident Peter Manning (Chair). His statement to the group on Wednesday was in response to Friends of Bethlehem drawing his attention to the rapid growth of settlements in recent months around Bethlehem.
The group also drew his attention to settler attacks on staff and students of Bethlehem University. Friends of Bethlehem is a community group in the Marrickville local government area, supports the local council’s sister city arrangement with Bethlehem and encourages stronger people-to-people contact.
The second major topic on the agenda with the Foreign Minister was tourism – the economic lifeblood of Bethlehem. We raised the difficulties caused by Israel’s huge concrete apartheid Wall which now surrounds the holy city of Bethlehem, allowing entry and exit only through military checkpoints. We raised Israeli propaganda depicting travel to Bethlehem as dangerous, but available on Israeli-owned tourist coaches. And we raised our program of promoting Australian tourism to Bethlehem.
Finally, we asked for Bob Carr, as a long-time environmentalist, to support UNESCO for admitting Palestine as a member last December and naming as it first project in June this year the listing of the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route on its famous World Heritage List.
The meeting concluded with the Foreign Minister advising he would be going to both Tel Aviv in Israel and Ramallah in Palestine next week to talk with both sides about a range of matters. The Minister thanked us for our visit and we left a package of documents outlining our activities since our foundation in 2006.
(Carr also left a report of our visit on his well-known website “Thoughtlines”. See here: http://bobcarrblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/friends-of-bethlehem-meeting/)
Links to further information on settlements
B’Tselem, Land Expropriation and Settlement
B’Tselem June 2011 map
B’Tselem 2002 map
American Peace Now Settlement Interactive Map
CBS Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2010
Mepeace: Settlements discussion
Links to further information on the population of Israel and Palestine
The Palestine Question: A Brief History Prepared for, and under the guidance of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, 1 July 1980
The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem: 1917-1988 Part I, 1917-1947
Population of Greater Palestine and Greater Israel (1851-1995)
Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition (1910-11). Cambridge University Press, p 604
[Population 650,000, two thirds Moslems, rest Christians and Jews.]
Updated 4 August 2012
Links to further information about UNESCO and the Church of the Nativity
By Dr. Hamdan Taha
“The inscription of the Church of the Nativity and the Bethlehem Pilgrimage Route on the World Heritage List on June 29, 2012, during the thirty-sixth session of the World Heritage Committee held in Saint Petersburg, was a significant event and the result of a long journey. It started with the call from the World Heritage Committee, in its twenty-sixth session held in Budapest, to consider the exceptional universal value of Palestinian cultural heritage and the request to take the appropriate measures to protect it.
The decision to inscribe Bethlehem is very significant since it is the first result of Palestine’s full membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and it represents the international recognition of the cultural rights of the Palestinians. It also contributes to removing part of the historic injustice that the Palestinians have suffered…(continued)…”