Sydney municipality to twin with Bethlehem

Marrickville Council in Sydney's inner west has ratified a controversial plan to form a sister city relationship with the biblical birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, but Jewish groups are concerned over the city's alleged Hamas links.

The Age reports that Marrickville Council has had an in-principle agreement since 2001 with Bethlehem but the arrangement was formally ratified at a council meeting last night by a vote of 11-1.

Less than a week ago NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said Bethlehem Council was controlled by members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which he says support the killing of Jews.

Mr Alhadeff said the move could give a platform for Hamas members to spread anti-Jewish propaganda.

But according to the Sydney Morning Herald, Bethlehem's Mayor, Victor Batarseh is a practising Catholic from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The paper added that Haskell Musry, a Jew who attended last night's meeting, said Mr Alhadeff did not speak for the majority. "I think most of the Jewish community would be unconcerned," he said.

Councillors have said the original proposal for Bethlehem to be a sister city had come from residents and had been unanimously passed.

Greens Councillor Sam Byrne said the decision was not political but rather to foster a productive relationship with Bethlehem Council.

"There's violence on both sides (of the Israeli-Palestinian border) and we stand against that," Mr Byrne told AAP.

"And we hope through this city arrangement that we will foster more dialogue and understanding of the important issues."

Labor councillor Sam Iskander, who put forward the idea, says he wants to promote peace and understanding.

According to the Herald, Independent Mayor Morris Hanna said no money would end up in the hands of Hamas.

"Our sister city relationships do not involve the transfer of funds to another country," he said, adding that Sydney Palestinians were helping pay for the delegation's accommodation.

A delegation from Bethlehem Council is due to arrive in Australia on 25 August, pending the approval of their Australia visas, Mr Byrne said.

Council's Bethlehem sister city plan (The Age, 20/6/07)
O little town of Marrickville what a fuss you've caused (Sydney Morning Herald, 20/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Marrickville Council | Clr S Byrne | Clr S Iskandar | Clr M Hanna
Bethlehem City website
Open Bethlehem

Americans clueless about Bethlehem (CathNews, 21/12/06)
Bethlehem faces darkest hour, mayor says in Christmas message (CathNews, 13/12/06)
Charity steps in to save Bethlehem traders (CathNews, 25/1/06)
Nuns say Bethlehem is dying, due to apathy of Christian world (CathNews, 19/12/02)

20 Jun 2007