As UK church leaders prepare for a pilgrimage to the beleagured city, news has emerged that a peacebuilding school in Bethlehem which welcomes Muslim, Christian and Jewish girls and boys has been told that part of their building is due to be demolished by the huge Israeli 'security wall' being constructed around the town.
The independent school based in the Al Khader district of Bethlehem provides educational opportunities for some 250 pupils. Supporters say that it is internationally recognised for its particular emphasis on peace education and the promotion of democracy and openness in an area of growing tension.
Ibrahim Issa, who is co-director of Hope Flowers School, has issued a global appeal for support. He says that the distinctive vlaue of the school is that children are taught to value their own dignity whilst affirming the equal dignity and value of others.
Mr Issa declared: "The building of the wall near the school has started. Despite almost eight years of legal protest the school cafeteria has received a demolition order from the Israeli army. The whole area is changing. Beautiful grey rocks thousands of years old are being crushed, and the hill at the front of the school is now a work site. Once built the separation wall may mean some of our students cannot reach us anymore."
The Hope Flowers head said that in spite of the looming threat of demolition, the school was continuing its work: "Our peace programme continues. Last month we organised two interfaith conferences with the Israeli Inter-faith Encounter Association from Jerusalem. It is vitally important to keep peace education going".
Mr Issa said because funds to the Palestinian government have been withheld by the US and international community, many neighbouring public schools have closed.
He continued: "So far we have been fortunate, but to keep our doors open a total of 11,500 US dollars is required each month, to cover both teacher's salaries and running costs. For December, we only have 4,700 US dollars available for both salaries and school running costs. Poverty here is increasing daily. With 30 per cent of Palestinians not being paid by their Government plus 40 per cent unemployment, it means that 70 per cent of Palestinians are without any income."
In a message sent to supporters to mark the Christmas season, Mr Issa explained: "[Our] school needs your support, like never before. The school is a beacon of light within a harsh reality. Today the 'Little town of Bethlehem' is imprisoned behind a giant concrete wall and a winding electronic fence."
He concluded: "Huge Israeli checkpoints surround the area completely restricting the freedom of movement for Palestinians, preventing them from reaching the outside world, from gainful employment, from their agricultural lands, from pursuing higher education, from adequate medical treatment or worshipping where they choose."
Information about how to assist the school can be found on its website: www.hope-flowers.org