Our city, which used to flourish during the tourist season, with waves of faithful pilgrims, and local and international visitors, is sealed away. Our hotels are empty, restaurants and souvenir shops are closed, and handicraft workshops are out of business. Israel is building a huge barrier that not only encircles the Bethlehem area and totally separates it from its twin city, Jerusalem, but divides it into little isolated enclaves as well. In the past 37 years, occupiers have destroyed the joyful spirit of Bethlehem, and along with it, the life of its 170,000 inhabitants. The 22 illegal settlements encircling Bethlehem have permanently destroyed its indigenous landscape and much of its cultural heritage. Most of the land reserves of Bethlehem were illegally confiscated to build these settlements. The 70,000 dunams of land that Bethlehem could lose to the Apartheid wall, with its eight metre high concrete walls, barbed wire, army patrol roads, trenches, and soldiers' towers, will destroy what remains of village life and turn all of Bethlehem into a huge detention camp. If this is allowed to continue, Nahalin, the beautiful garden of Bethlehem, together with six more villages, will be surrounded by barrier on all four sides. The 15,000 residents of the seven villages will need security permits to pass through the wall gates both ways, in order to reach schools, and even sleep overnight inside their own homes. With about ten kilometres of the planned 50 kilometres of the length of the Bethlehem separation wall completed, all of s feel that the ghetto is already established and are fearful for our future and that of our children. The most painful occupation is a one that is structured around barriers. Military check posts, roadblocks, and separation walls and fences are blocking our ability to live and diminishing our chances for a free and independent future, the only possible way for coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. Our city, which used to flourish during tourism season, with the waves of faithful pilgrims, and local and international visitors, is sealed away. Our hotels are empty, restaurants and souvenir shops are closed, and handicraft workshops are out of business. To continue with the construction of the wall, Israel has already demolished dozens of homes and enclosed a few neighbourhoods inside barbed wire. As the barrier is planned to run very close to the residential homes in all of the Bethlehem area (cities, villages, and refugee camps), if it is completed, no resident will have a farm, very few would still have a little garden. Depriving our farmers from their land, turning them into a labour force, and then blocking them from work opportunities means a slow and torturous death sentence issued against a whole nation. While we understand the security needs of the civilians on both sides of the conflict, we cannot understand why instead of building barriers within its territories, Israel insists on turning Palestinian territories into a big zoo, placing us inside cages. The Holy Land cannot be divided into a vibrant joyful society to the west, and a crowded miserable prison to the east. Palestinian lives are by no means cheaper than those of Israelis. A barrier that creates such a situation cannot bring security, but rather breeds more desperate people who can see no difference between life and death. Barriers might immediately save a few lives, but will establish the basis for more lives to be lost and more blood to be shed. The barriers we face are not only inside our land, but extend to the international level. Repeated American vetoes in the United Nations are blocking the way for a peaceful and just solution to our problem and firmly stand between us and our ability to regain our legitimate rights via peaceful legitimate means. Using security as a pretext for land grabs and collective punishment is a painful process that we have felt on our skins for the past 37 years of occupation. Yet, the apartheid wall is an unprecedented assault that threatens our mere ability to survive. We strongly feel that the ones who approve it or even stay silent about it are as guilty as the ones who impose it. After so much effort has been invested, and so many lives wasted, we urge you not to allow the Israeli government to destroy the remaining basis for our future coexistence, to return the crisis to an existential one. We cry out to you to not stay silent as we are being placed inside a locked cage, and to stand against and never recognize the racial apartheid system that is being established in the Holy Land. We need to affirm that humanity defeated Apartheid and will not allow it to raise its head again. We urge you not to add an extra barrier that would deny us the right to seek justice within the International Court of Justice. Israel should not be allowed to continue to be a country above international law. To stand for peace and justice we call you to help the International Court of Justice to bring us a step closer to establishing just peace in the holy land. Let us not allow walls to separate us.
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