By Susan Schwartz, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
The economic deprivation of the residents of Palestine under Israeli purview – now exacerbated by the Wall – is often not fully dealt with by a media that usually sides with Israel. Nothing brings the facts of this suffering home like the testimony of a person who has been a visitor to the Holy Land.
Joe Dibsy was born in Bethlehem, Palestine and now is a resident of Anaheim, Ca. He is active in community organizations, the Bethlehem Association and the Southern California chapter of the Palestine Childrenâ€™s Relief Fund. The Bethlehem Association like its sister groups, the Birzeit Society and the Ramallah Association, is composed of people who either were born in that namesake city in Palestine or who can trace ancestral ties there. The groups raise funds for the people of their home town in Palestine.
This summer the annual convention of the Bethlehem Association was held in Bethlehem, Palestine. The members felt that it was important to get in touch with their roots and to see first hand how fared the recipients of their charity.
Mr. Dibsy was the Convention Chair and a member of the Executive Committee. On this trip to Bethlehem, in addition to Association members, he was accompanied by the newly elected President, Mrs. Muna Handel Daye and the newly elected Vice President, William Shaheen.
While in Bethlehem the group met stand up comedian Maysoon Zaydi. Ms Zaydi will be familiar to readers of The Muslim Observer because of her appearances in Allah made me funny. Her charity, Maysoonâ€™s kidsâ€ received a donation of $1100 from the group.
Mr. Dibsy was kind enough to grant The Muslim Observer an interview.
There were 85 travellers in Mr. Dibsyâ€™s group, 80 from the United States and 5 from South America. They visited Bethlehem University where the Bethlehem Association has a continuing Family Scholarship Fund that has supported over 200 students through the years. This year they supported 22 students who graduated. The Bethlehem Association pays 80% of tuition costs.. The students were all top performers in high school. While there, the Universityâ€™s Public Relations Director showed them CDs of the studentsâ€™ activities.Many graduates go abroad as jobs are few in Bethlehem. Only 30% of the residents are employed: the remainder must exist on charity. Bethlehem is isolated due to the Separation Wall the Israelis have constructed. Many residents worked in Jerusalem and many future graduates would seek work there. Due to the presence of the Wall, this is no longer feasible. No one can leave the walled area without an Israeli military permit.
Joe Dibsy and his group also visited Beit Jala Rehabilitation Center, a state of the art facility built by the Swedish government to help injured Palestinians. This Center is also one of the charities that the Bethlehem Association supports.
He also, with his group, visited Dihesha Refugee Camp.
Mr. Dibsy also faulted the Israelis for diminishing the tourist industry that at one time flourished in Bethlehem. First, the Israelis control the number of tourists allowed into Bethlehem. Second, they discourage tourists who land in Tel Aviv and state their intention to visit Bethlehem. They will tell the would be visitors that Bethlehem is not safe. Mr. Dibsy said that neither he nor any of his companions felt in any danger during their visit.
TMO: Can you tell us of the conditions in Dihesha Refugee Camp:
Joe Dibsy: I went to the Dihesha Refugee Camp, but I did not meet with any of the families because I saw so many refugees in the streets and in shops. My relative who lives in Bethlehem drove us there to a place across the street from the camp. He told me that he comes here to buy sweets from this shop – that they make the best Kinafe (cheesecake) around.
TMO: Did you have an opportunity to interact with young children? If so, how would you describe their spirit?
Joe Dibsy: When they are out of school they are roaming the streets looking for strangers or tourists to beg money. Of course our group helped quite a few.
TMO: How can our readers help the people of Bethlehem?
Joe Dibsy: Readers who wish to help may make a donation to: The Bethlehem Association, 12935 Nelson Street, Garden Grove, Ca. 92840.
The Bethlehem Association was founded in 1985 by Edward Hazbun and was registered in Pennsylvania as a non profit organization. At present there are three chapters in the United States; Southern California, San Francisco and New Jersey.
Among the other charities supported by the Bethlehem Association are: The Antonian Charitable Society of Bethlehem (widows and orphans); the Arab Womenâ€™s Union (in Bethlehem); the Arab Womenâ€™s Union (in Beit Sahour); three orthodox societies (for the elderly of the church, and The Islamic Charity Society of Bethlehem.