This Christmas when the Christian world raises its voices in joyful choruses to the song, ‘Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem’, I will remain silent in protest over the Israeli army’s siege of the Town of Bethlehem and its sad reflection upon the Christmas message: ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men’.
Today, Bethlehem is far from the idyllic scene we pictured it in books and post cards. According to native born writer Mike Odetalla, ‘Bethlehem is home to some of the poorest people on Earth’ A recent report by the World Bank noted that almost half the Palestinian population are living below the poverty line on barely 2$ a day or less. As many as 600,000 Palestinians unable to meet their basic needs in food, clothing and shelter to survive. Unemployment is rampant in many towns and villages due to travel restrictions, closures and curfews. The World Bank has urged the Israeli government to ease travel restiction to help impove the economic situation for the Palestinian people.
But as Odetalla explains, Bethlehem today reflects much of Palestine, it is home to thousands of refugees living in camps. Sadly, Odetalla notes it is ‘Ringed off by settlements for Jews only, walled off and separated, Bethlehem today is virtually cut off from the rest of Palestine: choked by settlements that surrounds her. Its land and water and other resources expropriated by the Israelis in a relentless effort to make life even more unbearable for the Palestinian natives and refugees who call the village home.’
In a recent interview, the Mayor of Bethlehem Mr. Hanna Nasser criticized ‘the silence of the Christian world’ amidst the military aggressions and violations in Bethlehem and called them ‘shameful.’ The mayor added:
‘For more than four years, the Israeli army continuously invades the city, destroyed confiscated lands, while the Christian world stood helpless in spite that Bethlehem has a unique importance for Christians, and non Christians all over the world. … What is happening to the Holy City of Bethlehem is a shameful act to the Israeli government which conducts these violations while the Christian world is watching these violations without attempting to save the city.’
How dreadful. The Mayor also complained the size of Bethlehem is being reduced by settlement expansion. He said the Northern entrance which is the main ‘gate’ used by tourists and pilgrims is being destroyed by settlement expansion.
Unlike the Holy Mother who found refuge in a quiet stable to give birth, Odetalla notes the sad reality for today’s expectant mothers:
‘Young mothers to be are forced to stand endless hours at checkpoints manned by Israeli teenage soldiers who not only lack compassion but simply could care less about the plight of a woman in labor. Many woman have given birth in taxis or in the streets that are choked with dust in the summer and swimming with mud in the winter…Too many children and mothers have died from lack of medical care and failure to be allowed to pass in a timely manner.’
So when the Christian world raises its voices in joyful choruses this Christmas to sing: ‘Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem’ I shall remain silent in protest while this unknown author sums up the reality all too well:
Oh. Little Town of Bethlehem
Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
A wall is laid where tourists stayed, and tanks go rolling by.
And in thy dark streets shineth, no cheerful Christmas light;
The grief and fears of four sad years, are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently, the World regards it all,
As now thy heart is torn apart, by Israel’s ghetto wall.
They terrorize a people- a war crime and a sin;
Their winding Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œfenceÃ¢â€šÂ¬ÃƒÂ½ can make no sense;
Revenge can still get in.
O promised child of Bethlehem, cast down the iron cage,
The wall of hate that separate, and harden and enrage;
Bring justice and make equal; come down from far above;
And come to birth upon this earth as hope and peace and love.
Doris Cadigan, Massachusetts , Usa