NOTE: The following letter was faxed to the editor of the NY Times on August 11, 1995. Apparently they have decided not to print it --RB,.


by Ronald Bleier (rbleier@igc.org)

To the Editor:
In his article on the exodus of Christians from the Bethlehem area in the Israeli Occupied Territories, Times reporter, Youssef M. Ibrahim, incorrectly states that in the wake of the 1976 municipal elections, Palestinian mayors were urged by the PLO to resign. ("The Old Mayor's New Lament: Christian Exodus" NYT, 8.2.95)

According to the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991, most of the Palestinian mayors "were later dismissed [by the Israelis] or, in some cases, deported on security grounds." (p. 1452)

According to a similar State Department Country Report for 1983, "the major towns of Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and El Bireh were ruled by Israeli officials ... Bethlehem was the only town still governed by its elected mayor." (p. 1301)

Ibrahim's error makes it difficult to credit his report that the Mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, considers those who left "an ungrateful bunch." Ibrahim doesn't mention that a critical reason for the exodus of Palestinians (both Christian and Moslem) is Israeli land confiscation which deprives the local people their source of livelihood.

Nor does Ibrahim speak of the onerous and arbitrary taxes imposed on Palestinians -- taxes which are often two or three or more times higher than those the Israeli government imposes on their own settlers in the Occupied Territories.

In addition, from the beginning of the occupation, the Israelis have consistently prohibited routine political activity which might have worked to improve Palestinian economic life and would have made their hold on the land more tenable. Indeed, until the Oslo process began in September 1993, it was a crime punishable by years in jail for Palestinians to belong to a political organization .

Nor is the current Oslo process heading in the direction of Palestinian control over their land and water. Most importantly, it hasn't reduced the pace of land confiscation which continues despite highly publicized settler demonstrations against the Rabin government. According to statistics provided by a Palestinian group, the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, from the time the Oslo process began, through January 1, 1995, 36,311 acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated by the Israelis for military purposes, settlement expansion, roads and nature reserves.