A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli forces during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near Nablus July 3, 2020. (Credit: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters via CNS.)
The threatened Israeli annexation of territory in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley could be “the final straw” for a viable Christian presence in Palestine, said a group of local Christian clergy, reported the Union of Catholic Asian News.
“For Palestine, Bethlehem and particularly for its Christian population, this new process of annexation will be particularly catastrophic,” priests from the Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran communities of the Bethlehem area said in a statement released July 7.
Since 1967, Israel has annexed about 5,000 acres of land — some of it privately owned — in northern Bethlehem and the adjacent villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. The religious leaders said the capacity for the communities to expand according to the needs of their natural growth has been “severely hindered.”
On the western border, the Cremisan Valley and al-Makhrour Valley are the last areas left for expansion and enjoyment of nature, but these are under threat by the annexation, the priests said. A Salesian monastery and school located in the area targeted in the Cremisan Valley, and land farmed by parishioners for generations is also in danger.
In the east, people fear land belonging to Beit Sahour will be annexed.
“Our biggest concern is that the annexation of those areas will push more people to emigrate,” the clergy said. “Bethlehem, surrounded by walls and settlements, already feels like an open prison. Annexation means the prison becomes even smaller, with no hopes for a better future.”
“We feel the burden of history upon our shoulders to keep the Christian presence in the land where it all started,” they added.