Preparations near fence
Photo: Reuters
Photo: AP
Pope in Jordan
Photo: Reuters
Palestinian choir at Nativity Church
Photo: AP

Bethlehem prepares stage near fence for pope's visit

Despite Israeli ban, Palestinians continue to place finishing touches on Bethlehem amphitheatre near separation fence ahead of Benedict's visit, with high chance pope may not even visit site

In the town of Jesus's birth, before a grim concrete backdrop topped by a watchtower defaced by graffiti, Palestinians are putting the finishing touches to an amphitheatre for Pope Benedict's visit.


But Israel has ordered a halt to construction and the pope may not even use it when he speaks in Bethlehem on Wednesday.


The site was proposed by the Aida refugee camp to dramatize the reality of Israel's barrier through the West Bank.


It was on the understanding that the Vatican would accept the location that the refugee camp received funds from the Palestinian Authority to build the stage, say local officials.

Separation fence in Bethlehem (Photo: AP)


It is not clear whether, as Palestinian officials here say, the Vatican at first endorsed, then rejected, the site.


"When we started to work on this stage, a group from the Catholic church came to check our work. They told us to raise the eastern side of it, to make it more secure for the pope when he stands on the stage," said Monther Ameera, coordinator of his visit to the refugee camp.


But instead, Benedict is due to meet pupils at Aida's United Nations-run school which stands nearby.


Overlooked by the ornate minaret of an old mosque and garlanded with coils of razor wire, the school is directly across the street from where the little stone amphitheatre, with seating for no more than 500, is being built.

Amphitheatre's finishing touches, despite Israeli ban (Photo: Reuters) 


Last week, as workers were facing the amphitheatre with thick tiles of sand-coloured Jerusalem stone, an Israeli official delivered a legal notice, in Arabic and Hebrew, that they could not build at the site.


The spot is in an area designated by interim peace accords as under Israeli military control.


"You may apply for a permit", the legal notice said, and it laid down a formal procedure. The Palestinians, however, believed from past experience that there was no chance of obtaining a permit and ignored the order.


'VIPs taking refugees' place'

During his visit, the pope will be personally accompanied by the Palestinian Authority's military intelligence and Preventive Security Service.


The Palestinian presidential guard will be responsible for the security of the Church of the Nativity's courtyard, where the pope will hold a mass.


The pope's visit is not void of power struggles, and Ynet has learned that arguments have broken out over the list of people invited to take part in the pope's welcoming ceremony at the refugee camp.


"They are bringing him here, but he probably won't meet a single refugee because the VIPs all reserved the visit for themselves," a clerk in the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem told Ynet.


A few weeks ago, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal said the pope will visit and preach at "the al-Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which symbolizes the right of return and holds a message of peace, brotherhood, and justice".


Ynet contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 05.11.09, 09:44
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