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

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.


Rocket targeting US embassy in Baghdad intercepted while Iraq condemns Turkish operations against state

Updated 05 July 2020

Rocket targeting US embassy in Baghdad intercepted while Iraq condemns Turkish operations against state

  • There had been similar attacks on the Green Zone against American facilities in Iraq since October
  • Turkey’s operations in Kurdistan and other disputed territories in mid-June were aimed at removing suspected Kurdistan Workers Party

DUBAI: A rocket targeting the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone was intercepted by US Air defense systems with no claims of responsibility as of Sunday morning, Al-Arabiya News channel reported.
“The missile that was intercepted by the American embassy in Baghdad fell near a number of sit-in protesters close to the Green Zone area. It landed close to the bridge leading to the Green Zone itself,” Al Arabiya's correspondent in Baghdad Majid Hamid confirmed.
There had been similar attacks on the Green Zone against American facilities in Iraq since October that the US blamed on Iran-backed factions among Iraq’s security forces.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s military operations in northern Iraq were condemned by Ahmed Mulla Talal, the spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, local daily The Baghdad Post reported.
“We strongly reject and condemn these actions that harm the close, long-standing relations between the two friendly nations,"  Talal said in a statement.
Turkey’s operations in Kurdistan and other disputed territories in mid-June were aimed at removing suspected Kurdistan Workers Party targets from the area. The airstrikes launched by Ankara have killed so far five civilians.
Talal accused Turkey for violating Iraqi sovereignty and described the country’s offensive as “detrimental” to “regional peace.”
The spokesperson added that his country had sent two letters to Turkey's ambassador to Iraq, and says Baghdad will have to refer to “international law” to stop Turkey.
“We hold the Turkish side responsible for the legal and moral responsibility for all the human and material losses that occur,” he said.