“All I want for Christmas is justice”
– Christmas in Bethlehem from the eyes of a Palestinian-
2014 is the 47th year in which Palestinians observe Christmas under Israeli occupation. The Ministry of Tourism in Palestine declared that the theme for this year’s celebrations is “All I want for Christmas is justice.” Those words are contained in a large banner hanging next to the Christmas tree in Manger Square, Bethlehem.
Anton Murra, a Palestinian Christian and writer narrates the horrific injustices as a result of the oppressive and discriminatory policies imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation every day. He asked over a 100 Palestinians on the streets: “What do you wish for Christmas and for the New Year?” His intent was to “better understand their frustrating reality and at the same time to encourage them to transform the negative energy of their past and help them imagine a brighter future.” He describes how a father of four, said: “I can no longer watch all the violence on the news! It is very sad how people have lost their humanity. I hope for world peace and end of human suffering.” He also relates a story of a mother who lost her twenty-three year old son in 2002 during an Israeli attack. “The war on Gaza, that resulted in the destruction of some areas in Gaza and the death to over one thousand people, revived a lot of the sad memories of my belated son…I hope that no mother would have to suffer from losing her children.” Roger Salameh, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Bethlehem, argues “for us to live in peace, the occupation must end.” His Christmas wish is for “a free country recognized by the world.” Others ask for just a “normal life”.
Murra refuses to surrender to hopelessness. He asserts: “I have a dream” and “I don’t care how disappointing it has been working to achieve that dream…I will never accept living my life as a victim…and I won’t give up until I attain it.”
A group of western Christians now on assignment in Hebron, one of Palestine’s most acutely affected cities Palestine observe:”Whilst the Israeli occupation, and the racism, fear, hatred and greed that fuels it, is so indescribably ugly, there is beauty in its resistance.” The human spirit is so much stronger than all of the guns in Hebron put together….and there are a lot here.
Naim Ateek, the Palestinian liberation theologian says: “From a Palestinian world view, there are certain similarities between the political conditions in Palestine during the times of Jesus’ birth and the political situation in Palestine today. There is a flagrant occupation that dominates and oppresses people; and there are words that describe what people go through: fear, insecurity, instability, suffering, grief, despair, and other negative feelings that a repressive empire and an Israeli rightwing government can produce.” He describes why the words of the angel to the shepherds in the Christmas story strike a relevant chord, “do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” He asks: “What constituted good news for the shepherds in first century Palestine and what would constitute good news for our Palestinian people today? He affirms that freedom and peace with justice as the foundation is the requisite because, in his view, both can produce a life of dignity, security, and stability to people.
As much as we want to celebrate it is important to first identify with our sisters and brothers who suffer in Palestine and anywhere where oppressive machinations dehumanize large numbers of people. Or else Christmas will be reduced to a mere spectacle. The message of Christmas is from the song of the angels: that in the midst of these difficult times, the implication of the Christmas message to oppressed people is basically clear: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.” (Luke 2:14)
God discerns oppression and subjugation and reveals to us an option in the birth of a baby who ultimately holds in himself the answer to the human condition of injustice and insecurity. He declares “do not be afraid.” Earthly powers of their own accord will not bring liberation. The requisite is that they humble themselves before God, love and serve others.
Palestinians have relentlessly and desperately sought peace but find themselves obstructed at every attempt. Accords, summits, agreements, roadmaps have fallen flat. Israel has been obstinate and unyielding. It has erected all kinds of barriers, physical and political so as to expand and cement its occupation. If it believes in the call to bring “Glory to God” then Israel must acknowledge God’s overall sovereignty and act in justice. To cling on to a history that is obsolete towards and defies centuries of history is to defy God’s justice and will for an inclusive society – not one in which one group will claim privilege over another in God’s name. God is a just God.
Israel has adopted policies, laws, and practices which dispossess and dominate the Palestinians by appropriating their lands, evicting them from their homes, humiliating them and denying them their most elementary rights. Christ’s birth is the indication that a loving and compassionate God whose very nature, as Naim Ateek says is “love, compassion, and justice; and who’s longing is to see the realization of peace on earth and goodwill among people” is here with us.
We are invited to be peace builders and are challenged to work for a just peace in Palestine Israel.
“Glory to God in the highest heavens, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.”