Batarseh, a U.S. citizen who practiced thoracic surgery in Sacramento, Calif., is pinned down in Bethlehem. A Christian and political independent who calls himself a private enterprise democrat, Batarseh is on the Israeli blacklist because he contributed to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) (a State Department-designated terrorist organization). Denied permits for Jerusalem, the mayor must drive to Amman, Jordan, to get to meetings in Europe.
Contact with the PFLP is not a requirement for being holed up by the IDF. Bethlehem University students cannot get to Jerusalem, a few minutes' drive away, unless they sneak in illegally. The university's students from the separated Gaza enclave have to take classes from Bethlehem via the Internet.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey was at the university the same day I was, and Bethlehem faculty members could hardly believe a real live member of the U.S. Congress was there. Smith later was given a tour of Jerusalem to see with his own eyes that the separation barrier in most places is a big, ugly and intimidating wall and not merely a fence.
Smith, an active Catholic layman, was drawn here because of the rapid emigration of the Holy Land's Christian minority. They leave more quickly than Muslims because contacts on the outside make them more mobile. Catholic Brother Peter Corlano of the Bethlehem University faculty told Smith and me: "We live the same life [as Muslims]. We are Palestinians." Concerned by the disappearance of Christians in the land of Christianity's birthplace, Smith could also become (as I did) concerned by the plight of all Palestinians. If so, he will find precious little company in Congress.