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Of COVID, Christmas, Lockdowns, Virus and Variants

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

Winter 2021

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Dear family and friends,

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 Pandemic and is lurching from one crisis to another, there is some optimism that, with the various vaccines being developed and rolled out – though not as quickly nor as efficiently as they could be – we may be able to exit from this terrible nightmare sooner, rather than later. Thanks to all of the doctors, nurses, and medical staff around the world, who have given unselfishly of themselves and who remain steadfast in the face of this deadly virus.

In November of 2020, Israel broke ground and began clearing land for a new Israeli settlement at Givat Hamatos (Hebrew for “the hill of the plane”), a controversial site located in the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa and what Israel calls “southern Jerusalem.” The UN and the EU immediately condemned the move, citing the proposed new settlement’s proximity to Bethlehem. In addition, if this project were to go forward, Bethlehem would be severed from Jerusalem. The High Representative Mr. Joseph Borrell’s statement on the expansion at Givat Hamatos proclaimed, “the EU has repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. It remains the EU’s firm position that settlements are illegal under international law.” He further stated, “the announced settlement activity will lead to the continuing weakening of efforts to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties which is necessary for an eventual resumption of meaningful negotiations. The Government of Israel should instead show vision and responsibility and reverse these negative decisions at this critical and sensitive time.”

On December 18, only a week before Christmas, our first “Come, and See” film, sponsored by the Office for the Middle East and Europe, went live on Vimeo. If you have not seen our film, which starts with the Christmas story in Beit Sahour (The Shepherd’s Fields), and moves to the contemporary Bethlehem, you may view the film at https://vimeo.com/492500217. As of this writing, the film has had over 980 views!

On December 20, and just before Christmas, Israel began vaccinating its citizens with the Pfizer vaccine in a massive campaign to vaccinate everyone inside Israel. As for the Palestinian Territories, they have neither received the vaccine nor made a concerted effort to secure a supply for their own population, to date. Rumors that the Palestinian Authority has been offered the Russian Sputnik vaccine are rife, and many are saying they will refuse any vaccine at all.

Christmas in Bethlehem was a somber event this year, yet the Christmas Eve procession went ahead despite COVID-19. Gone were the crowds of foreign visitors and tourists, and even the local population was much slimmer than any I have ever seen. Long a traditional part of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Scout troops wore protective facemasks when not playing their musical instruments. A light rain fell early on December 24, adding to the somber mood of the day,

On December 27, Israel instituted yet a third lockdown in the country until January 31 to slow or halt the spread of the deadly COVID-19, and later extended the lockdown until at least February 4, 2021.

In early January, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem (Hebrew for “in the image of”) characterized Israeli actions and measures taken in the West Bank as “apartheid.” Their position paper states that “in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices, and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. A key method in pursuing this goal is engineering space differently for each group.” To read the entire position paper, please go to: https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid (for print version btselm.org).

On January 25, Israel took an unprecedented step and announced it would close Ben Guion airport for one week, perhaps longer, to stop the spread of any new COVID-19 variant. Since then, they have also closed the borders with Jordan and Egypt.

I wish to thank you all for your prayers, support, and correspondence. They all mean so very much, particularly at this time. I hope and trust you are all keeping safe and staying well.

Please continue to pray for the people of Bethlehem, seventy percent of whom work in the tourism sector and who have experienced an almost complete loss in income. Last year was a difficult year for them, and this year doesn’t look any more promising.

I leave you with this prayer from the Church of Scotland’s daily app: “Lord, grant us the strength to pursue peace, the will to promote justice, and the faith to believe in a better world. Amen.”

Blessings,

Doug


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