Children ask why they can't enter Jerusalem on a donkey - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
March 18, 2005

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Children ask why they can't enter Jerusalem on a donkey

-18/03/05

Children and adults are expected to fail in their attempt to ride from Bethlehem to Jerusalem on donkeys, as they try to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday.

The idea for the donkey ride, explains Rishmawi, came from Christian Palestinian children who were fascinated by the story of a Bethlehem man who could just get on a donkey and go to Jerusalem.

"Neither children nor adults from Bethlehem are allowed to go to Jerusalem," explains George S. Rishmawi who is organising the ride.

"Of course you can apply for a permit to go, but 99.9 percent of the permits are denied."

Even with permits, there is no guarantee people will be allowed to pass.

"So we are going to walk from Manger Square at the Church of the Nativity, and we will be trying to get to Jerusalem as Jesus did."

The ride comes as the Israeli government reveals the latest plans for the route of the separation barrier it is building around which will make the separation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem complete. It will cut East Jerusalem and the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank off from the rest of the West Bank, and will divide Bethlehem.

Christian Aid's Palestinian and Israeli partners say the route will jeopardise peace talks. They argue that the decision amounts to a unilateral attempt to prejudge the borders of a final solution to the conflict and whereas.

The Israeli government says the barrier is for security reasons and Israel has an absolute right to defend its citizens from attack. But the route of the barrier ? snaking deep into the West Bank will mean lands claimed by Palestinians for their future state will lie on the Israeli side of the barrier.

The plan, which was authorised by Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court, will see Ma'ale Adumim, the largest West Bank Israeli settlement encompassed by the barrier.

The town of Bethlehem will also be divided and the holy site of Rachel's Tomb will lie on the Israeli side. Construction is due for completion by the end of the year.

As Christian Aid witnessed on a recent trip to the West Bank, the route of the barrier is having a devastating effect on the lives of Palestinians living nearby and many have been forced to move.

The story of Palestinian headmistress and mother of two, Terri Bullata, illustrates the hardships the barrier is causing. She and her family live directly in the shadow of the wall in the Abu Dis district which now falls on the West Bank side of the wall. Their house, however, is on the 'Jerusalem' side. She, being a Jerusalemite, has blue Jerusalem ID which, under the Israeli permit system means that she can reside in Jerusalem and generally enjoy greater freedom of movement than her West Bank compatriots ? including her own husband.

If her husband's ID is checked he could be deported to the other side of the barrier, forcing the family apart. As in the case of the Bullatta family, along the entire length of the route of the barrier in the Jerusalem district, Palestinians are separated from Palestinians and not from Israelis ? which begs the question of how that provides Israelis with security.

It is hoped that the image of the donkey at the checkpoint will speak with the innocence of a Palestine child who would
simply ask the world, especially the Christian world, 'why can't we ride to Jerusalem like Jesus anymore?'

As Sunday's ride progresses, at some point, the donkeys will approach a military checkpoint, and campaigners hope all the world will see what happens next. Most likely, cameras will snap images, not of palm fronds being thrown under the donkeys feet as 2,000 years ago, but of guns and uniforms blocking the way.

"Right now, the checkpoint is heavily militarized," explains Rishmawi. "There is a military base with lots of patrols going back and forth. Rooftops in the area have been camouflaged, and Israeli snipers are all over the place."

When the soldiers order a stop to the ten donkeys and their human escorts at the northern border of Bethlehem along the Jerusalem-Hebron Road, a few people are planning to break from the procession to engage in some form of nonviolent resistance, perhaps a sit-in.

Rishmawi serves as Coordinator of the Travel and Encounter Program for the Holy Land Trust. For a month or two during the summer, pilgrims to Bethlehem can learn Arabic, work with volunteer organizations, and see the sights.

And since they are pilgrims, not Palestinians, they can even visit Jerusalem, too.

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