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Christmas in Bethlehem
Christmas 2013 in Bethlehem (Beit Laham, Aramaic for House of Laham, the Canaanitic God of Sustenance) is still a very special and meaningful time even under the brutal Israeli apartheid occupation.
Photo: teargas canisters shaped as a peace sign in Nativity Square.
We are not talking about the visual aspects and the unique religious services at the Church of Nativity (you can now follow these live stream for example on the link shown below). It is special because reflection here is special. Nowhere is there an exhibit of “Occupation Art” shown in a “Peace Center” in front of a large Christmas tree in front of one of the holiest places in Christianity. Nowhere on earth do people pray that the wall suffocating them is dismantled then watch and listen to Christmas carols from around the world after admiring such exhibits. No where can we hear the same singers mix Christmas and patriotic songs in the Manger Square and the Shepherds’ field.
In my town of Beit Sahour, the Shepherds field, we just concluded two nights of the three nights called “Shepherds’ Night”. Yesterday Reem Al-Banna the famous Palestinian singer entertained hundreds. Today a magician entertained children and hundreds of them (Muslim and Christian) received gifts from Santa Clause. Later in the evening the crowds enjoyed the patriotic music of Thaer Barghouthi who gained fame as the musician and composer for the 1987-1991 uprising (of which Beit Sahour was then at the forefront).
Tomorrow on Christmas day (Western calendar) starting at 4:30 PM we will have a candlelight march under the banner “Light a candle for Self Determination” in Beit Sahor (organized by Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and the Joint YMCA/YWCA Advocacy Initiative). We demand that Bethlehem is freed from the occupation and colonization that now limits us to develop only 13% of our district. We demand the right of return and self determination for all Palestinians.
The end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 is a time to reflect that some 2.5 billion human beings believe in a message that originated with a Palestinian child thought to be born in a manger over 2000 years ago. The land was called Palestine at the time of Jesus’ birth and also for hundreds of years before he was born and it is still geographically Palestine today. It is also a time to reflect on the real message of Jesus, sometimes distorted (like happened with the Crusaders and with the marginal misnamed “Christian Zionists”). It is still a message of hope, peace, joy, justice, love, and harmony.
It is the busiest time of the year for us. This is a time when we are asked to speak to a lot of visiting delegations, most of them Christian pilgrims. We also get invited to all sorts of events and prayer vigils organized by many Palestinian groups (in the last few days alone YMCA/YWCA, Bethlehem University, Catholics, Evangelicals, and Presbyterians). We reflect with them on our mixed backgrounds and history and the future of our joint humanity. They all pray for people in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere where there is suffering.
Gaza is 1.8 million Palestinians besieged in a semi-Arid strip. 1.1 million of them are refugees who can look across the "fence" built on their lands and see the rest of their lands and many of their original destroyed villages across this fake "border". Places like "Sderot" and "Ashqelon" after all were not empty lands before 1948 (see palestineremembered.com or Zochrot.org). 1.8 million people will soon start to starve in large scale. The UN said it is a humanitarian catastrophe and will be unlivable by 2020. Just today, on Christmas eve, Israeli forces also bombed Gaza killing at least two including a 3-year old girl and injuring others in her family. So many Palestinians in Bethlehem and in the Churches directed our Christmas gifts to people of Gaza and people of Syria. And most of us (me included) are barred from entering our city of Jerusalem which is methodically being stripped of its Palestinian population (Christians and Muslims) and isolated by walls (physical and psychological). But with all this suffering why are we Palestinians filled with hope, peace, and joy?
Please click on link for more including photos and videos of Christmas in Bethlehem and more:
Professor at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People