"Green Mountain" must not become "The Mountain of the Wall."

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Final status negotiations have begun between the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority. At this critical moment the Midle East Council of Churches adds its voice to the many opposed to the building of 6,500 new Jewish housing units on Jabal Abu Ghneim near Bethlehem. The decision to press ahead with this project casts in doubt the Israeli government's commitment to make peace sith the Palestinian people. In soil already bitter, it sows seeds of deep distrust and even deeper despair.

This is not new. A year ago H.B. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and president of the MECC, warned: "We cannot understand such contradictory measures. On one side, Palestinians requested to make peace and on the other, their lands are being confiscated. These confiscations raise frustration and despair in all hearts and are among the main factors exploited by extremists and which lead to more violence."

On the eastern edge of Jerusalem the new settlement will effectively lay siege to the Palestinian communities of Um Tuba, Sur Baher, Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. It will eliminate their land reserves and isolate them both from Jerusalem itself and from the northern towns of the West Bank, strangling economic development in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, two important Christian towns in the West Bank.

The Jabal Abu Bhneim project joins with an even more ambitious plan for a new tourist city at the northern entrance to Bethlehem to be called Bethlehem, ISRAEL. Tourists will be bussed into Biblical Bethlehem, visit the Church of the Nativity, then go straight back to Bethlehem, Israel to shop, eat and sleep. This tourist village--with its own olive-wood souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants--will choke off family owned businesses in Bethlehem proper and deprive the already flagging economy of the Palestian autonomous area of much-neede revenue. We note that Israel is already building a settlement adjacent to Bethlehem call "Mitzpe Beit Lehem" (Bethlehem Sentinel).

Palestinians know Jabal Abu Ghneim as "Green Mountain." The proposed new Hebrew name is "Har Homa" (Mountain of the Wall). The difference in names is eloquest of the difference in perception.

When trust, good faith and confidence are needed to repair the old and build new firm foundations for a relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, this new "wall" can only frustrate hopes for a peace founded upon justice, human dignity and mutual respect. The government of Israel must stop this settlement being built. These faits accomplis deny the very spirit of the peace process as embodied in the Oslo Accords. With all their flaws and inadequacies, those accords are the only basis which we now have for progress toward healing, renewal, reconciliation and peace.

The Middle East Concil urges churches and religious organizations throughout the world to decry what is happening to the City of Peace, and to intervene with their governments in its cause. Our Lord blessed Jerusalem with his presence. He lived there. There he was crucified, died and rose again. It is a trust upon us all, and beckons the faithful to preserve it as everyone's city, a city whose portals open upon eternity.

General Secretariat Communications. Middle East Council of Churches P.O. Box 4259, 3722 Limassol, Cyprus Fax 357 5 324 496 L. R.. Scudder Elizabeth D. Barlow Program Coordinator, Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies 144 Lane Hall, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1290 phone: 313 764-0350; fax: 313 764-8523; email: bbarlow@umich.edu