Bethlehem (JTA) — Concerned
about the future of their holy
sites once Israeli troops with-
draw from Palestinian towns
and cities on the West Bank,
1,000 Christian pilgrims flocked
to Bethlehem to demand con-
tinued Israeli sovereignty over
what they termed the "Biblical
Land of Israel."
In a rally punctuated with
singing and prayer, the Christ-
ian demonstrators expressed
fear that the Palestinian Au-
thority would not safeguard the
rights of Christians to pray at
their holy sites.
Most of the demonstrators
were in Israel to take part in the
International Christian Em-
bassy's annual Feast of Taber-
Several of those interviewed
noted that under the terms of
the Interim Agreement signed
by Israel and the Palestinians in
Washington on Sept. 28, au-
thority over Bethlehem will be
handed over to the Palestinians
just before Christmas.
Waving banners proclaiming
that "Bethlehem Will Be Jewish
Forever," the pilgrims were
joined by several Jewish resi-
\--, dents of the West Bank who
voiced their own concerns about
an Israeli redeployment.
Said Yigal Klein, a 17-year-
old resident of Gilo, located near
Jerusalem, "Gilo is right next to
Bethlehem, and one day very
soon the army won't be here.
This isn't just a Jewish issue, so
\_ I'm pleased to see Christian sup-
porters here in Bethlehem."
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the
chief rabbi of Efrat who has led
often-stormy settler protests
against the Interim Agreement,
told the crowd, "We welcome
with all our hearts the confir-
mation that this is our land. The
peace process has brought Jews
and Christian believers closer
Though some of the partici-
pants called the gathering an
apolitical prayer meeting, the
majority openly expressed con-
cern about the Palestinian Au-
thority's ability — and desire —
to safeguard Bethlehem and oth-
\-1 or West Bank sites.
"We are concerned about
Christian sites falling into Arab
hands," said Jim lbale from the
Philippines. 'We can't be sure if
they will allow us to visit them.
"As Christians, we are here
today to support Israel and to
pray for peace," he added. "Those
/ who bless Israel will also be
Referring to the belief, held by
many Christians, that Jesus'
Second Cominviilloccur only
after the Jews have returned to
Zion, International Christian
Embassy spokesman Jan
Willem van der Hoeven said, "If
we give up Bethlehem, we will
not see the prophesy."
Mr. Van der Hoeven also ex-
pressed fears over the safety of
the West Bank's Christian mi-
nority if self-rule is extended
throughout the territories.
"In Lebanon, we saw Chris-
tians murdered by Arafat's men.
Thousands of Christians have
been raped and killed," he said.
The Rev. Jesse Stines, from
Elk Park, N.C., concurred: "I be-
lieve Christians are in danger
because of Muslim attitudes.
Christians are persecuted in
most countries, so why should it
be any different here?"
Washington (JTA) — Marking
the six-month anniversary of the
deadly bombing that ripped
apart the Oklahoma City feder-
al building, B'nai B'rith Inter-
national presented the people of
Oklahoma with $515,000 for dis-
aster relief at a Capitol Hill cer-
Members of Congress and
B'nai B'rith officials used the oc-
casion to call for the swift pas-
sage of anti-terrorism legislation
pending in Congress.
Religious leaders, rescue
workers, members of Congress,
and Attorney General Janet
Reno gathered at the ceremony
hosted by Sen. Don Nickles, R-
Okla., and B'nai B'rith to re-
member the victims of the
bombing and to pay tribute to
the heroes who worked to save
lives and heal the pain.
B'nai B'rith presented Okla-
homa's congressional delegation
with a symbolic check repre-
senting the more than $515,000
in contributions B'nai B'rith had
collected from more than 10,000
people across the country.
making their way through Con-
gress would ban fund raising by
terrorist groups, beef up crimi-
nal sentences for convicted ter-
rorists and give federal law
enforcement agencies more tools
to investigate suspected terror-
Ms. Reno, in her remarks,
called on the American people to
pull together and build partner-
"In the spirit of Oklahoma
City, we must speak out against
divisiveness, we must speak out
against racism;” she said.
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