Photos: Activists hold mass at the barrier blocking Bethlehem

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I’ve covered the prayerful protest in the West Bank town of Beit Jala from the time it began in 2011 until I left Palestine in June. OnFaith has published my most recent published work on the topic, since the latest Israeli court hearing in the case took place on November 30. Here’s an excerpt:

If the wise men came to Bethlehem today, they might have a hard time reaching the Christ child. As one popular satirical Christmas card purportedly by the British street artist Banksy depicts, the magi might now find their way blocked by the Israeli separation barrier that virtually encircles the modern West Bank town.

But what many people don’t realize is that there are still huge sections of the barrier that remain un-built — about one-third of the total planned route. So maybe the wise men could smuggle their gold, frankincense, and myrrh into Bethlehem the same way that thousands of Palestinian workers smuggle themselves out of the West Bank each day to find jobs as unpermitted laborers inside Israel.

Continue reading at OnFaith

I also published a version of this story on Evangelicals for Social Action, highlighting Israeli perspectives on the barrier:

“I understand the suffering,” says Israeli Pastor Oded Shoshani of the Messianic congregation King of Kings in Jerusalem, expressing a common attitude toward the barrier. “These things represent an unpleasant reality.” But he adds, “It wasn’t built with a huge and massive expense just for the sake of repressing the Palestinian people. It was built for the defense of the people of Israel.”

Shoshani, who was educated as a mechanical engineer, says statistics prove the barrier works: “Between 2000 and 2005 almost 1,200 Jews were murdered by suicide bombers. After 2005 the numbers dropped by something like 99%. It’s as simple as that.”

Jews weren’t the only ones to suffer during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which began in 2000 against Israel’s military occupation. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which tracks fatalities on both sides, reports that by the time of the last suicide bombing in February 2008, Israelis had killed 4,536 Palestinians.

Though most Israelis would agree with Shoshani, what many don’t seem to realize is that the barrier is still only about two-thirds complete, as gaps in places like Beit Jala demonstrate. As early as 2006, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was reporting that, according to police sources:

The security fence is no longer mentioned as the major factor in preventing suicide bombings, mainly because the terrorists have found ways to bypass it. The fence does make it harder for them, but the flawed inspection procedures at its checkpoints, the gaps, and uncompleted sections enable suicide bombers to enter Israel.

The same report credits Israeli forces’ improved ability to foil attacks, but cites Palestinian militant groups’ agreement to stop such attacks as the main reason for decreased violence.

“There’s no problem crossing the gaps in the fence, and tens of thousands of illegal workers cross it back and forth every day, and there should be no problem getting suicide bombers through with them,” admits Israeli pro-barrier activist Ilan Tsi’on, co-founder of “A Fence for Life.” “So why don’t they? Because that’s the Palestinians’ choice. … So in fact, our security is really an illusion.”

“It’s obvious today that the separation wall is completely useless. It’s damaging Israel in the international arena, and it causes hardship for the Palestinians in their day-to-day lives,” former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens told another Israeli newspaper. Though he was once convinced of the barrier’s necessity, he now says, “Today it’s clear there is no connection between the wall and the cessation of attacks.”