An American Christian experience of Israel

Betty Jane Bailey Bethlehem and Jerusalem

August 24, 1997

I am an American Christian who lives in Bethlehem, a town in the West Bank which has achieved autonomy through negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis under United States sponsorship. I remember the day when the Israeli soldiers pulled out of the town and the Palestinians pulled down the high fence around the police station. I remember the day when the town was given autonomy -- the right to self-government. Despite the neglect of 28 years of occupation -- the pot holes, the deterioration of the water lines and sewer system; despite the lack of telephone lines and the crowded worn out school buildings, autonomy felt great.

I am an American Christian who is working with the churches in the Holy Land and I need to go to Jerusalem several times a week. I have an American passport and I have a valid visa for Israel and I have an apartment in an autonomous town. But sometimes I have trouble getting through the checkpoint into Jerusalem and sometimes I have been harassed at the checkpoint coming back. I have been told I was not allowed to go home to my apartment. My "Why?" was once answered by "Because I say so." Some days I have had to cut through the fields. On the other hand my Palestinian Christian neighbors can't go either way through the checkpoint.

You see, the West Bank and Gaza are divided up into areas known as A, B, and C. Area A are those town considered "autonomous" and Area C remains completely under Israeli control. Area B is supposed to have joint security patrols but is still Israeli controlled.

My Area A town is surrounded by Area C with a little bit of Area B thrown in. It is an island within a sea of Israeli control. Most roads are blocked with large cement cubes as well as dirt and rock dams while the remainder are blocked with soldiers armed with machine guns. This means the Israelis control everything that goes in and out. My grocery store has trouble getting come supplies including dairy products and my green grocer has empty places on the shelves where there used to be fruits and vegetables. Building materials are not allowed in and tour buses are turned back at the checkpoint. The part of the economy dependent on tourism is wrecked. Workers are not allowed to go to work, so the economy dependent on work outside of Bethlehem is wrecked. And some people are feeling hunger as they have no way to earn money to buy food for themselves or their children.

This is autonomy? You can't have autonomy when someone else controls your food, your fuel, your water, your medical treatment, your ability to earn money, your movements in and out. Bethlehem is not autonomous but rather it is an isolated piece of territory called Area A, subject to being choked to death at any time by those controlling Area C.

Betty Jane Bailey Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Betty Jane Bailey and her husband Martin are United Church of Christ ministers, presently in the fourth year of voluntary service in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. They live in Bethlehem and are actively involved in several religious and human rights efforts in the area.

Peace. John Worrell

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