It has once again, come and gone.
Bethlehem though – the place where many think Jesus was born – remains.
It remains under military occupation. The following Christmas story, the story of modern day Bethlehem, is one for Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists alike.
When people sing about the little town of Bethlehem what do you think of? Donkeys? For me, I cannot help but to think of the modern, not so little, town of Bethlehem that I visited earlier this year. The town that is virtually surrounded by the Israeli military separation barrier.
Christmas cards often avoid modern images of the Holy Land. When they dare venture into the present day, you will normally see images of the Church of Nativity in the centre of Bethlehem. For some reason, it is less common to see images of the 8m high separation barrier that surrounds the town…I wonder why?
Bethlehem, however much Clinton Cards would have us believe otherwise, is a city that is still under military occupation. Those of faith and those without are living with the consequences of this – the illegal settlements, the separation barrier and the checkpoints that people are forced through daily.
As the Palestinian president Abbas recently said, “For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints”.
For me, no number of Christmas card images will take from me the image of Checkpoint 300 – a place that is devoid of any sense of humanity let alone Christmas cheer.
What many don’t realise though, is that Bethlehem is not just the historical home to Christians but also the literal home to many Palestinian Christians. These Christians are suffering – in many of the same ways other Palestinians are.
The EAPPI report, Faith under Occupation highlights this point stating, “Palestinian Christians face daily violence. Their homes are confiscated or demolished. They rarely get permits to build new houses on their own land. Jobs are scarce, medical assistance is sparse and water is routinely cut off. While Christians from all over the world can freely visit the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Palestinian Christians are denied the right to freely worship, as they need special permission to enter Arab east Jerusalem”.
There is nothing here that is unique to Christians though.
There are many Muslims in the West Bank whose only desire is to be able to worship in Jerusalem but they are unable to obtain a permit from the Israeli state.
This Christmas, many who live in the ‘Holy Land’ are facing hardship that we cannot begin to imagine.
Christmas will soon be over, but the human suffering in Bethlehem remains. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Muslim in Bethlehem…you live under the same military occupation.