Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
Updated 25 December 2018
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Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

BETHLEHEM: Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said keeping hope alive was his biggest challenge.
Talking to Arab News during an exclusive interview, he expressed his wish to bring thousands of disapora Bethlehemites back to the city, but acknowledged his inability to do so “because there’s no land due to Israeli settlements.”
Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. What is your biggest challenge as mayor of a city surrounded by walls and settlements?
A. Keeping hope alive. We do so not only as a matter of carrying the message of Christmas, but also through our daily work: Building institutions and capacity for our people is a strong form of resistance against the occupation.
In practical terms, I’d like to bring back thousands of Bethlehemites from the diaspora, but I can’t do that because there’s no land due to Israeli settlements, and because the Israelis control the population registry and many people have lost their IDs. Whether by taking land or residency rights, Israel doesn’t want us here. We tell Israel that no matter what, we’ll remain.

Q. What is the biggest obstacle for tourism in Bethlehem?
A. Israel’s monopoly over tourism, but we also have a responsibility in terms of doing more advocacy and promotion. Israel has even tried to prevent tourists from sleeping over in Bethlehem, but we’ve succeeded in bringing more people. What’s important though is not the number of visitors as much as the number of people who stay in the city. Our goal for 2019 is to increase the number of people staying in the city.

Q. Are you interested in Arab tourists? What would you like to see in terms of tourism from Arab and Muslim countries?
A. Bethlehem is the Capital of Arab Culture 2020. We’d love to have thousands of people form Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon here. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible today due to the occupation, and we know we’re losing a lot from it. We lose our potential, but our Arab sisters and brothers should know that we’ll always be waiting for them.
Has the increase in tourism accommodation improved long-term economic conditions, or is it only short-term improvements?
It’s too early to make any conclusions about this, but we can’t take Bethlehem outside the context of the economic crisis that we have in Palestine in general. In any case, we’ll keep working to improve the situation, and to make our residents feel the increase in the number of visitors in their daily lives.

Q. What do you want from the international community?
A. More deeds and less statements. It needs to hold Israel accountable for violating international law. How can a Western government claim to care about the situation of Christians in the Middle East while doing nothing about the oppression we have in Bethlehem? How come separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem with an illegal wall has been normalized by the international community? We need it to uphold its legal and moral responsibilities. That’s all we’re asking for.

Q. What are the issues on which you would like to see the Palestinian Authority (PA) doing more?
A. We have a direct relationship with the PA, and we raise our issues with it. We’d like it to better promote the potential of our city.


Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

Updated 23 May 2019
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Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

  • Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other
  • The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense is considering a US military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by US Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
The Pentagon regularly receives — and declines — requests for additional resources from US combatant commands throughout the world.
One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what US officials have said are credible threats from Iran against US forces and American interests in the Middle East.
The Pentagon declined to comment on future plans.
“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Trump had warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.