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Palestine
Letters to Senator Clinton From an American Muslim and a Palestinian Christian
Letters to Senator Clinton From an American Muslim and a Palestinian Christian  DEAR HILLARY, my name is Mike Odetalla. I am a Palestinian/American and a father of three, who was born in 1960 in my ancestral village of Beit Hanina, which is a suburb of Jerusalem, and according to internationally recognized laws, conventions, and resolutions, is considered part of the occupied P
Thursday, February 9,2006 00:00
by Mike Odetalla and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

Letters to Senator Clinton From an American Muslim and a Palestinian Christian


 DEAR HILLARY, my name is Mike Odetalla. I am a Palestinian/American and a father of three, who was born in 1960 in my ancestral village of Beit Hanina, which is a suburb of Jerusalem, and according to internationally recognized laws, conventions, and resolutions, is considered part of the occupied Palestinian Territories that were invaded and captured by Israel in the 1967 war. I was a child of war, having lived through the 1967 war, whereby my mother, my siblings and I were forced to flee our home and seek refuge in the scorpion-infested caves that populate the hills that surrounded our village.

During the first night of the war, our family and the other 20-odd women, children, and the elderly, including my 6-day-old nephew, barely escaped getting blown to bits by an Israeli fighter jet that circled overhead, its metallic body glistening under the full moon-lit sky. It then proceeded to fire a missile into the mouth of the cave a mere few moments after my mother grabbed us, imploring the others in the cave to follow, as we scampered into a nearby olive grove, clinging to each other for comfort as the flash and deafening thunder of the blast rang in our ears.

We spent the next 20-odd days moving from cave to cave as my mother and the other women tried to sneak back into the abandoned houses in our village, managing at times only to gather flour and precious water for their children. Jews celebrate Passover by eating unleavened bread, which signifies their hurried Exodus out of Egypt when they took and baked the dough before it had time to rise. My mother baked our bread in the same fashion since we also did not have the luxury of waiting for the bread, as we were on the move, trying to stay one step ahead of the Israelis.

In 2002, when my American-born children were old enough to fully understand and comprehend, I took them back to the hills of Beit Hanina and to the very same caves that I huddled in with my family 35 years ago. We retraced our steps as we fled our homes in that June moonlit night, stopping in front of the cave whose mouth was destroyed by the Israeli missile. It was important for me to show my children and tell them of my experiences, as well as the experiences of their grandparents on their mother’s side who were ethnically cleansed from their homes and lands by the Zionist founders of Israel in 1948, forcing them and more than 750,000 other Palestinians to become homeless refugees, living in squalid conditions in refugee camps. Their grandparent’s home in the village of Lifta still stands today, even though their grandparents are not allowed to move back, contrary to U.N. Resolution 194, and other internationally recognized laws and conventions that deal with the right of refugees to return to their homes. 

I know that these details might not be of importance to you, but they are very important to me and to the millions of other Palestinians, especially in light of your recent trip to the Holy Land, whereby you reiterated your support for the apartheid wall that Israel has been building to imprison my people into discombobulated walled-off ghettos and, in the process, steal their precious lands.

You stood with your back to the concrete wall and had the audacity to say to the Palestinians people, “This wall is not against the Palestinians. This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism.” Your words proved yet again that neither you nor anyone else in our government has any grasp of reality of what is actually happening on the ground in Palestine. The victim is once gain placed in the unenviable position of having to guarantee the security of his oppressor, while being denied his own basic human rights and security—or, for that matter, the freedom of movement in his or her own town or village.

Did you really believe the words that were coming out of your mouth? Did you actually give thought to those words before uttering them, or were you just going through the motions of being a politician, saying and doing anything to get elected without the burden of a conscience or sense of justice?

My family, as well as the residents of the village of my birth, Beit Hanina, are some of those Palestinians that you claimed the wall was not being built against. Beit Hanina, like many other Palestinian villages and cities, will be turned into a walled-off ghetto, whereby families will be cut off from one another as well as from their fields and orchards. The villagers of Beit Hanina, which include members of my family, will lose access to their ancestral lands, which will then be confiscated by the Israelis. Did you not find it odd the way the wall snakes in and around the Palestinian built-up areas, swallowing the most desirable pieces of land, while at the same time excluding their rightful owners?

You also saw fit to visit the Israeli settlement of Gilo, which is built on the stolen lands of the Palestinian village of Beit Jala, as the colonizers of the illegal settlement cheered and showered you with their affection. You reciprocated that affection by pledging your fealty to the state of Israel and its policies, no matter what the consequences of those policies were to the brutalized and maligned Palestinian people, the very same people who graciously and warmly hosted you and your husband, Bill in 1999. You even accepted a hand-embroidered Palestinian folk dress, which you wore with a smile on your face, glowing in the world class hospitality of the Palestinian people, the very same people that you now turn your back on, joining the right-wing chorus as you demonize them and their society.

Could you not find it in your heart to actually visit with some of the Palestinian people, or were you afraid photographs showing you with a Palestinian child might mysteriously crop up during your future campaigns for higher office?

As the first lady of the United States, you once wrote a book with the title of It Takes a Village in reference to the old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. As you toured the Palestinian areas, did you ever once think about the children who were being trapped behind the 30-foot high concrete wall, cutting them off from their family, friends, and access to their schools? What kind of a childhood and life will these children have as the “village” that is supposed to be their home and center of their universe is reduced to nothing more than an open air prison?

Yes, it does indeed take a village, a global village minus the physical and mental walls, which believes in the universal principles of compassion, mercy and, most of all, justice to raise a child who will grow up to realize his or her full potential as a human being.

Mike Odetalla, Westland, MI

Mike Odetalla is a Palestinian/American businessman, born in the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem. He lived through the 1967 war and, although he moved to the U.S. in 1969, continues to go back annually with his family to Palestine, where most of his family still reside. He can be reached at <www.Hanini.org>.

Greetings From Bethlehem
Greetings to you from Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the center of the world for billions of Christians in the 2000 years since the Word became flesh, and the home of a dwindling population of Palestinian Christians who, despite the continued pressures of living under Israeli policies of occupation and segregation, still hold onto their lands and dignity.

I was encouraged when I met your husband here in Bethlehem in 1999, during the preparations for the Bethlehem 2000 millennium celebrations. I was also encouraged when in 1998 you said that “it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state,” a conviction which is shared today by the entire international community, including many Israelis.

I was surprised last week when I saw your picture in Haaretz (Nov. 15, 2005), which was taken near the wall, just outside our town. I know that many Palestinians would have loved to welcome you in their homes in Bethlehem, but you did not come to visit us. Perhaps you simply did not have time to stop by and greet us, the people who would be the other half of any agreement which would allow Israel to live in security and peace. Or perhaps while you had Bethlehem in the background of the publicity photos, you had certain of your constituents in New York in the forefront of your mind. In one month’s time you will be singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I wonder how you will sing it this year, having declared your support for transforming our “little town” into a big, open-air prison, leaving no green space for our children to play or our olive trees to grow?

Your comment that the Wall “is not against the Palestinian people…[it] is against terrorists” is deeply offensive in its ignorance and glossy portrayal of the effects of Israeli policy in the West Bank. We would like you to know that the wall is affecting the daily life of every Palestinian person, not only in our town but throughout the West Bank. The wall is less about security than it is about colonizing land and controlling its indigenous population. It is designed to allow maximum expansion for Israeli settlements (which are unequivocally illegal under international law) and minimal space for Palestinian towns and villages to grow or even draw their livelihood. The wall is limiting Bethlehem to an area of about 6 square miles, while the settlements which surround us continue to expand on stolen Palestinian land. After taking such a courageous standpoint in 1998, why are you suddenly abandoning international law, the consensus of the international community, Christian notions of justice and reconciliation, and the American values of freedom and dignity which you have sworn to uphold? Please do not try to gain political support at the expense of the Palestinian people.

We thank God for all of our American friends who visit us, work with us, support us, and help us build bridges, not walls. You will be hearing from some of them, those who are your constituents in New York, and we hope you will listen to what they have to say. We are not asking for your pity, but we do ask you to reconsider your position in support of the wall, which is illegal and violates our rights to land, jobs, family, free movement, dignity, and self-determination. These are American values, and we merely implore you to ensure that they are upheld here.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is pastor of Bethlehem’s Christmas Lutheran Church and general director of The International Center of Bethlehem and Dar al-Kalima Academy. His books Bethlehem Besieged, I Am a Palestinian Christian and Bethlehem 2000 (co-authored with Fred Strickert) are available from the AET Book Club.


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