Attorney Anton Salman is the new mayor of Bethlehem, capital of the Governorship bearing the same name, under the Palestinian National Authority. He succeeds Vera Baboun, the first female mayor of Bethlehem. Salman’s appointment is a result of Saturday’s municipal election that involved 1.1 million voters, called to choose the representatives of 300 municipal districts of the West Bank, including Bethlehem, out of 4 400 running candidates. Salman, heading the voting list “We are all Bethlehem”, gained 8 out of 15 available seats. According to tradition, enshrined in a 1997 Law on the initiative of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the mayor and the deputy-mayor are required to be Christian. Moreover, if the former is Greek-Orthodox, the latter is required to be a Roman Catholic and viceversa, despite the fact that the local Christian population has been a minority compared to the Muslim community for quite a long time. SIR interviewed mayor Salman a few days after his official appointment. It should be remembered that Mr. Salman was a major negotiator of the siege at the Church of the Nativity. From April 2 to May 10, during the Second Intifada, during the Operation Defensive Shield, the Israeli Defence Forces occupied Bethlehem and tried to capture suspected Palestinian militants, dozens of whom fled into the Church of the Nativity. After 39 days, an agreement was reached, the militants were exiled to Europe and to the Gaza Strip. Salman, one of the most renowned members of the National Palestinian Lawyers’ Association, currently chairs Bethlehem’s Antonianum Charity Organization. He is the attorney of the Custodian of the Holy Land.
Mayor Salman, what are your hopes for the upcoming term of office?
Bethlehem is a universal city, with deep religious and historical significance. All world nations are called to help it and support it
and so are all religious institutions, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Bethlehem needs support in many areas of life. Especially now that Jesus’ birthplace was selected as the 2020 Culture Capital of the Arab world. Let us hope to usher in a new phase in the history of our city, capital of Christianity.
What does it mean for you to hold this office – which according to tradition and law is required to be held by a Christian? I am a Palestinian Christian. I seek dialogue with all the people of good will who want to support us in the areas of politics and in the quest for peace, and with all those willing to cooperate for the common good, for the establishment of justice and freedom.
As regards freedom, Bethlehem is surrounded by an Israeli wall… Bethlehem is a city under occupation, closed in by the Israeli wall. What Israel has put into practice in our city and across the West Bank is intolerable.
Israeli occupation must end, and Bethlehem must be a free city for everyone, for the whole world and for all religions. It’s time to put an end to check points and to the wall surrounding the city. Our problem is the occupation.
It’s an ongoing problem that must be solved, so that it may return to be a free city in a free Country.
Next May 23rd US President Donald Trump will be in Bethlehem, where he will visit the Church of the Nativity. As mayor of the city you will be there to welcome him. What will you tell him? Just a few words: I will tell him that
We want our independence, our freedom, necessary to erect our State
Just like other world countries. We want to speak of peace, true peace, that must be established within an independent Palestinian State, and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
What are the other problems you will be called to face in your new capacities as mayor? Bethlehem has many needs. First of all its public sectors and infrastructures are all in need of renewal, this includes streets, schools, open markets, squares…. These are but some of the priorities of the coming months that entail major financial efforts. We need to solve the problem of traffic with an efficient transport plan. The city’s renewal encompasses these decisions.
Every year, Bethlehem is the destination of many pilgrims who come to visit the Church of the Nativity and other holy sites in the area. To what extent could pilgrimages and religious tourism help achieve the goals you just mentioned? We are counting on pilgrimages, which represent a great boost to the local economy, needed also to finance the projects of our Municipality.
Pilgrimages can help Bethlehem also in political terms. Pilgrims can put pressure upon their respective governments to help us recover our independence and our freedom.
To go on pilgrimage to Bethlehem and to reside there also means reconfirming our city as the world capital of Christianity, with all that this recognition entails.