Dozens of Palestinian families in the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank are waiting to see Pope Francis I during his historic visit to the region. Eight families have been selected to represent Palestinian society and its suffering under the Israeli occupation. They are scheduled to meet with the Pope in the Franciscan monastery in Bethlehem.
Elias Abu Mohr's is one of the chosen families. He lives in Beit Jala, which lost its source of employment income when the Israeli authorities confiscated its land and the olive trees planted thereon to build the apartheid wall to the west of Bethlehem. The 44 year-old said that he is not aware of the selection process. "However, we were very happy to learn that we will meet the Pope because the Israeli occupation threatens us directly and wants to confiscate our lands in the Cremsan area to build the apartheid wall." He said that he hoped to be able to explain the tragic situation experienced by Palestinian families in the area. "I will explain to the Pope about the Palestinian people's daily suffering and pain caused by the confiscation of land and the construction of the wall," he said.
The Abu Mohr family owns more than 17 dunams in the Cremsan Valley area threatened by the Israeli occupation authorities; that's around 4 acres of prime farmland affecting just one family. There are dozens more who will also be hit by the Israeli wall.
According to Elias's wife, Juliet Bannoura, the Israeli authorities have uprooted more than 80 olive trees over the past couple of years in order to build roads and the wall in their area alone. "Our land is not the only land threatened with confiscation," she said, "but we are the family that carries a great responsibility to bring this important issue to the Pope, hoping to stop the Israelis' racist acts against us."
Their message to the Pope, she added, is the message of all Palestinians: "We are afraid that Israel will continue to confiscate our land, because losing the land means losing our traditions, our culture and our right to exist and the right of our children to this Holy Land."
Rania Jawdat Mikhail is a Palestinian Christian who travelled all the way from the Gaza Strip to Bethlehem to meet the Pope and explain to him the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza under the Israeli blockade for more than eight years. "I was selected to be a representative of the people of the Gaza Strip," she said. "I hope that I can explain the scale of suffering and pressures endured by Gazans, especially young people who cannot find jobs or a decent life and suffer from psychological distress and cannot see any prospects for peace because of the blockade and Israeli intransigence."
Rania and a few Christian families were able to travel to the West Bank after the Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to the hundreds of Christians from Gaza who applied to visit Bethlehem in order to see the Pope.
"Frankly," she said, "I carry a heavy message and a great many good wishes from people in the Gaza Strip, especially young Christians, that the Pope will pray for us and give us financial and moral support, because many young people consider migration in search of a better life." She added that they hope that the Pope's visit will help to bring peace, stability and safety and that he will work to bring about positive change to the people of Palestine and specifically the people of the Gaza Strip.