When children in historic Bethlehem go out to play, they can't go play soccer in the park because there isn't one.
But if Bountiful Mayor Dean Stahle has his way, the people of Bountiful and Utah will eventually provide a soccer field in their sister city.While it may pale in comparison to the political struggle that pits Palestinians against their Israeli neighbors, Stahle said, his dream of raising enough money for the sports park in Bethlehem represents a small step in bridging cultures and creating world peace.
"We need to reach out beyond ourselves," Stahle said.
Stahle and members of the South Davis Community Choir recently visited the birthplace of Jesus Christ as part of a two-week tour. Bountiful and Bethlehem became sister cities in 1983.
In Manger Square, Stahle witnessed a virtual ghost town as a Palestine Liberation Organization strike has shut down schools and businesses during the most recent struggle for a Palestinian homeland.
In a restaurant that had been specially opened host the group, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij noted the plight of the city, which is shared by Palestinian Christians and Moslems. Freij said Palestinian families who have lived in Bethlehem for generations are becoming increasingly agitated with Israeli occupation.
"They are just a little tired of being pushed around by Israelis," Stahle explained.
Despite such struggles, Stahle believes that the sister city relationship can help change Bethlehem's quality of life. Even the small donation of 200 English school texts given to Bethlehem school children by the choir is a start.
"They know more about us than we do about them. We need to learn more about them than we do," Stahle said. "It is something we can do. Just knowing of our friendship helps them."
Stahle has tried various fundraisers - from soliciting corporate donations to selling cookies for the project. So far, however, little money has been raised.
But Stahle wants to change that.
Choir member Mary Nelson has taken the challenge to heart and is selling a cookbook to raise funds.
"We have more things we want than we need. We have the means of doing something," Stahle said, noting that Bethlehem's municipal government and people get by much less than their Bountiful counterparts - even in these days of frugal city budgets.
Stahle hopes the sports field will only be a beginning. He envisions cultural education in local schools, student exchanges, and teams of Bountiful doctors and dentists being sent to provide much needed health care services in Bethlehem.
Then there is the big dream of one day building a hospital in Bethlehem.
"Just working with them we stand a greater chance of making a significant difference," Stahle said.
He said that in the case of Bethlehem, it could be a unique difference. Bethlehem is the only known Arab-controlled city in the world that has a sister city relationship with a U.S. city. He sees Bountiful's friendship leading the way for others to follow - helping dispel the Arab world's suspicion of Americans.
Donations for the soccer field should be sent to the City of Bethlehem Fund, c/o Bountiful City, 790 S. 100 East, Bountiful, UT 84010.