I took a taxi from Beit Sahour. This is the sleepy village just outside Bethlehem, known by many for the Shepherds' field, where 2000 years ago the birth of Jesus was heralded by the glow of a brilliant celestial sign reprinted each year on Christmas cards worldwide.
Instructions to the site were inaccurate and only after recognizing a man on the side of the road, did I ask to be let out of the car. People were slowly gathering in a field overlooking a gorgeous valley of ancient olive trees. Nearby is the location of Cremisan, the last Catholic monastery producing wine in Palestine. Besides being a place of contemplation, the monastey represents the last open green area found within Bethlehem, as the ancient city is now caged in by Israel's Apartheid Wall. Moreover, to "protect" the nearby and ever-expanding illegal settlement, a new extension of The Separation Wall is being built around the Jewish-only colony. Referring to the expropriation of Palestinian land as a "security measure" is mean-spiritted, dishonest and self-serving. This is state-sanctioned annexation in the service of deepening Israeli colonization of Palestine.
Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party is explicit on this. From their political platform: "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.” And, “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.” Netanyahu's recent speech at the UN stating otherwise is clearly dishonest. Israeli policy towards the nullification of Palestine is spelled out clearly. His repeated call to negotiate for peace without preconditions is nothing more than a stalling technique designed to build more Jewish-only settlements, steal additional Palestinian land while at the same time, depopulating Palestine of Palestinians.
Thirty or so people gathered on the windy hillside. A card table was unfolded and covered with a tablecloth. Two candles, a chalice and Bible transformed the small table into an altar and we began to celebrate an open air mass with Fr. Ibrahim Shomali and Abuna Mario Cornioli to pray for the end of the Israeli occupation and the halting of plans to annex the olive groves lying beneath us - the place where I picked olives last week.
A group of young men nearby unfurled a large banner that proclaimed, "We live here and we are not invisible".