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Talal Barham, Rachel’s Tomb area

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.11.2011:

“It hurts my heart that Holy Cities are separated by an 8-meter high Wall”

Talal Barham, 44, 4 children

Interview by Sytske van Bruggen, January 2009

“There are thousands of interviews done about the situation here,” opens Talal Barham. Talal is a sophisticated, well-dressed man in the beginning of his forties, speaking fluent English.

“One thing that is underestimated is that the situation in Bethlehem is completely different from the rest of the West Bank.” Talal bends over. “This is the place were Jesus was born!” He waits a second. “So here you find a special group of people. It’s the Palestinian Christians; they are the roots of Christianity all over the world.”

In Talal’s view, Christians are suffering more from the situation than other Palestinians. “The majority of Palestinian Christians live in the Bethlehem area. 80 percent of them earned their income from tourism, for example by making or selling handcrafts. After the Intifadas, the Israeli government tries to keep tourists away from Bethlehem. So Christians are hurt most.

But according to Talal, there is also a spiritual suffering. Talal considers Bethlehem and Jerusalem twin cities; in Bethlehem Jesus was born, and in Jerusalem he passed the last period of his life. “It hurts my heart that these holy cities are now separated by an 8-meter high wall.”

Two years ago, Talal left for the United States. After a long legal battle, he got full US citizenship in January 2008. He had the possibility to let his wife and daughters come over as well. But he started to feel not in his place in the USA, because of his religious beliefs.

Softly but quickly speaking, he says: “The place where you have been born will remain important for you during all your life. If the Messias would come, then where would he show up? In Bethlehem of course!” But in Bethlehem, the number of Christians declines rapidly. “If this situation goes on for 50 years, there would not be any Christian left to welcome the Messias! That would be such a shame!”

That perspective appeared so horrifying for him that he decided to come back. And although life in the West Bank is much more difficult for him than in the States, he is happy to be back. Thanks to his American passport, he can move freely between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

But most of all, his heart is quiet again. He feels that his family is available to welcome his Messias.

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