{mosimage}Yesterday, while I was walking the streets of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, I was struck by the gleaming white buildings on a hill parallel to the city that is the birthplace of Jesus.  While most of the buildings in the Bethlehem area date back for centuries, these seemed to have been produced, in the last few years.  Even though in Bethlehem, there is some ongoing construction and some newer buildings, you can sense the history of this, a holy place.

As Christmas approaches, there was almost a spiritual awe that overtook me as I walked the streets that Joseph and Mary walked as they themselves struggled up the hills on the day before the birth of Jesus.  The mere sense that the footsteps I had taken may have been the same one that Joseph did, as he led Mary to the birthplace of Jesus, simply overwhelmed me.  Even though I am not a Christian, the feeling of religious power seemed to make me giddy with excitement.  That excitement was tempered and turned to sorrow when I heard it was another Israeli settlement that goes by the name of Har Homa.  This hill was formerly known to the Palestinians as Abu Ighnam, which used to be a beautiful hill covered with Olive trees.  It now is nothing but a concrete scar.

So this morning, I, like the wise men, decided to follow the scar over Bethlehem.  As the illegal settlement came closer into view, I was struck by the amount of construction equipment and rooftop cranes, busy at work, continuing construction.  At a time when the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Ohlmert, is talking peace and returning to 1967 border, settlement expansion is moving forward at break neck speed.  It suddenly became obvious to me, that no one would invest the amount of money into settlement expansion that Israel is, if it truly is willing to abandon the buildings and return the land to the Palestinians.  It was also surprising to me, as I, like most Americans, have been led to believe that settlement activity was frozen, as part of the road map to peace.  Obviously, only the Palestinians have to follow the road map, Israel must be using a different map.  It is clear to me that the map they are using, is one that shows a greater Israel that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and from Syria to Egypt.

In speaking with the citizens of Bethlehem, I was also taken aback by the reports that Israel was planning to build an Orthodox church in Har Homa and name it, The Church of the Nativity.  I have to admit that I am appalled by the land theft, the theft of resources, the theft of the lives of the Palestinians, but now they also wish to steal history.

It was also disconcerting to walk down from Bethlehem, and see a billboard with small children on it and a logo that said – USAID.  I thought it was appropriate that when the sign was erected, it was directly in front of Har Homa.  To me it was humorous and sad and indicated to me that the only US aid is aiding Israel in building settlements, stealing land and supporting state-sponsored terrorism.  America is supporting Israel to the sum of 3.2 billion dollars a year of American tax dollars to commit acts that would make the average American nauseas.  

While approaching the illegal settlement, the road leading to the area came into view.  While I was walking on a rubble strewn road, the perfectly laid, brand new road, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, clearly with warning signs, snaked its way to the settlement.  I decided to walk across an olive grove, and see what the signs said.  When I got within about 10 feet of the fence, Israeli soldiers started yelling, either in Hebrew or Arabic, neither of which I understand, and released a guard dog.  I continued to take pictures and when finished, I then turned away and left the scene. 

As we approach one of the most holy days in Christendom, I had to think to myself, what would Jesus say, if he was here today.  Jesus who was a man who preached love, selflessness, caring for the weak, helping your fellow man and loving each other, and here I am, a witness to the type of hatred, selfishness, lack of love and outright theft and abuse that Israel expresses towards the Palestinians.  Two nights before, the Israeli army raided and destroyed a child care center and kindergarten, just 100 yards from where I was staying.  I went to the location afterwards and witnessed the type of hatred and terror distributed at the hands of the Israelis, with support and funding from America.  Doors destroyed, classrooms demolished and cabinets emptied.  The only thing they didn't damage was a picture of Mickey Mouse on the wall.

During my stay in Palestine, I have been treated with such kindness and love that at times I have to lower my eyes in embarrassment, knowing the support my government is giving to help Israel terrorize the Palestinians.  For anyone who wishes to visit Bethlehem, I have to say, please come, please visit, please support the Palestinian people, as they are the warmest, kindest, most wonderful people I have ever met, anywhere in my entire life.  To come to Palestine the only thing you have to fear, is the Israeli Border police, the Israeli soldiers and Israeli hatred.