Edition 2: No. 57
For Palestinians even Christmas is under threat-
A Christmas message from Badayl-Alternatives- December 2012
The world at large will celebrate the birth of the Christ Child (the Bethlehem event in this season, as it often referred to) with jubilation and festivities. Palestinians, on the other hand, will also celebrate the day but with a measure of fear and trepidation. For, who can know which erratic and fanatical Israeli soldier will choose to inflict violence on an individual or go on a rampage against an entire village without any provocation and only to fulfil her or his desire to practice hate on the Palestinians.
Within Israel, the Christmas event itself is challenged and Christians feel the heat in many ways. Two years ago, Shimon Gapso, the Mayor of Upper Nazareth, banned Christmas trees from all public buildings in his northern Israeli city. In fact, anything non-Jewish is being forbidden in growing doses around Israel. Shimon Gapso said quite plainly “As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.” As if to inflate the humiliation on Christians in Israel, the city’s chief rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, has refused to countenance a single Christmas tree in Upper Nazareth, arguing that it would be “offensive to Jewish eyes”. Israeli hotel owners have been threatened with closure if they so much as dare display a Christmas tree anywhere in their premises. In Haifa- a city where Palestinians have a relatively large number of citizens, hotels and event spaces were instructed to abandon New Year’s parties only because the Jewish New Year happens at a different time of year.
These actions are not mere acts of fanaticism. They are a manifestation of an oppressive state of affairs matched only by growing social and political intolerance. Moreover, they are not just irritant happenstance at Christmas season. The Palestinian has grown to cope with this negative political and social fervour coming from the extremes in every village and town on an almost daily basis.
Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran Pastor from Bethlehem reminds us of the grim reality of the Palestinian condition from the perspective of ‘Bethlehem- Then and Now’: “Jesus was born as a refugee. His family was forced to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Later his family had to flee the brutality of King Herod and go into hiding in Egypt for two years. Today Bethlehem has almost 20,000 Palestinian refugees who lost in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, their land, homes and belongings and came to Bethlehem seeking refugee. They are still living in three refugee camps waiting for a just solution.”
Bethlehem, even at the time of the birth of Jesus, was a besieged city says Rev. Mitri Raheb. He describes how Bethlehem remains a besieged city surrounded on three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. It is dotted by check points, surrounded by illegal settlements, patrolled by undisciplined and vicious military personnel that impose their will whether or not it is grounded in the rule of law. Raheb says: “If Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.”
And while this political reality is played out, this very season there will be joy and merry making around the world as ‘Christmas entrepreneurs’ invest in the Christmas event, rake in profits, and reduce Christmas to a mere commercial event. In churches people will joyfully sing carols dressed in their best clothes brought to them by none other than Coca Colas much-loved invention- Santa Claus. The air waves will be filled with the sound of the young and old singing Joy to the World, Silent Night and a host of celebratory songs that make Christmas what it has now become- emptied from its true content.
What joy is there for those who suffer in Palestine because their homes have been demolished; whose children are in prison or been killed by a sharp shooter gone awry? Or, for those who have been expelled, dispossessed, and displaced for the only supposed crime of being Palestinian? Or, whose religious rights have been snatched away; whose right to return to his/her homeland is being denied; and whose lands are stolen only to replace them with settlements colonized by fanatical settlers? Or whose livelihoods are snatched away and where people are starved, deprived of the essentials of life just to prove that power lies with Israel and its rulers who have lost their sanity and humanity!?
And what silent, peaceful night can we vision when there is jet fighters rattling all night in the Gaza Strip coupled with the unannounced arrival of the apache helicopters and bomber aircraft arriving to kill, and mutilate people regardless of age? What peace is there on offer when the sounds of mortar pierce the air simply because the people who are targeted have political opinions that rebuff the occupation? How can someone in Gaza even image a silent night when all one can recount are the screams of traumatised children? What silent night do we sing of when the music is drowned out by the echoes cranes erecting new housing blocks; or of bulldozers flattening land for new roads and buildings; or uprooting olive trees and destroying agricultural crops?
How can celebrate the Christmas event from outside Bethlehem in some sort of meaningful way? These thoughts about the acute injustices in Palestine must temper our celebrations. Hopefully, our views will invigorate and prompt the liberative elements within the human mind that seeks justice first and last. For after all, when any part of humanity suffers, each of us is diminished.
The good news is this Mitri Raheb says: “God came into none other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. The Gospel is that God became one of us, one like us. He came as a child, vulnerable, and weak. And yet through his vulnerability was able to overcome the empire. Christmas is God’s promise to us that we will have life, peace, and future.”We as a community of people who chose solidarity must now dare to live out this promise. .