Christmas greetings from Bethlehem
We have been writing annual Christmas messages of peace, for human rights, and relating sometimes what happened in the passing year for decades. Since I returned to Bethlehem in 2008, these messages have been special. Since founding the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS) in 2014, we also added greeting from PIBS. This year writing seems tougher than ever considering the ongoing and unprecedented genocide/holocaust occurring in Palestine. In the ten weeks before Christmas, more than 20,000 civilians (>8000 of them children) were killed. 2.3 million people were denied food, water and medicines while all means of life around them was systematically targeted. Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) are literally starving to death and dying from lack of medical care. 65% of Gaza residential buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged. Israel also targeted schools, hospitals, clinics, churches, mosques, bakeries, sewage and water facilities, electrical, communication and other infrastructure.
We local Christians cannot “celebrate” or do decorations while injustice persists. The Church of Nativity during this season usually received hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Today it is shrouded in dark cloud. We can only pray and meditate on the need for peace and justice in the birthplace of the prince of peace. We native Christian Palestinians (the first Christians) reflect that some 2.5 billion human beings believe in a message that originated with a Palestinian baby born in a manger here. We reflect on the real message of Jesus of love and caring for the oppressed and the suffering. The harsh reality on the ground reminds us of our responsibility to shape a better future. Bethlehem is home to 260,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims including over 60000 refugees. We natives are limited to live in only 13 percent of our district while over 150000 colonial Jewish settlers live on stolen Palestinian lands of the district. Bethlehem is besieged and blockaded. Bethlehem University like other universities is mostly offering courses online due to the apartheid system. Bethlehem is isolated from its urban twin city Jerusalem (5 miles away) via an apartheid wall destroying the economy for Palestinians on both sides of the wall. Israeli Jewish settlers and soldiers move freely and have taken over most of our land and natural resources and regularly attack us.
Eight million of the 15 million Palestinians in the world are refugees or displaced people thanks to a meticulous Western-backed program of ethnic cleansing. The vast majority of Palestinians who remain are living in concentration camps like Bethlehem, Jenin, and Gaza under a ruthless apartheid fascist Israeli regime. Despite all of this, we are still hopeful because we take a long view of history. Some 100,000 years ago humans migrated from Africa using Palestine as the passageway to Western Asia and then the rest of the world. This is where our ancestors first domesticated plants and animals (agriculture and pastoralism) some 11 millennia ago. This allowed development of the earliest civilizations (in the Fertile Crescent), the first writings and the first thoughts of deities. Our Canaanite ancestors spoke a language we refer to now as proto-Aramaic. From this language and its first alphabet came the Arabic, Syriac and Hebrew languages and alphabets. Aramaic was the language of Jesus. Phoenician Canaanites evolved the Latin alphabet delivered it to Europe and it is the alphabet you are reading now. ‘A’ is from Aramaic Alleph (turn upside down to be the symbol of the bull) and ‘b’ from Beit (house) turn to side to see a domed house and so on.
People lived in relative harmony here with nature and with each other for thousands of years. Thankfully very few attempts to transform Palestine from a mixed society of various religions and backgrounds to make it monolithic. The latest such foolish attempt was to transform Palestine into a “Jewish state” (apartheid and ethnocentric chauvinistic state), a state that is failing though with significant bloodshed.
As we reflect this Christmas from Bethlehem, we aspire to a certain
future when refugees
are allowed to return and all people of all religions live in equality and justice. Jerusalem/Bethlehem will then become a true light unto the world. We are grateful that there has been tremendous growth of actions by civil society around the world to push for human rights and justice in this “Holy Land”. This has included some significant actions for boycotts divestments and sanctions (BDS) from Israel in the same way we did with Apartheid South Africa.
So this Christmas we remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 6). So think of us Palestinians as you think of Christmas and do boycott products that aid the occupation/oppression, see bdsmovement.net
History teaches us that injustice cannot last long especially when so many people join the struggle. We in this land will continue to struggle and yearn for freedom. We at at PIBS, Bethlehem University ask for your prayers and for your support (time and money) which helps us expand our work with thousands of Palestinians especially from marginalized communities (see palestinenature.org). And do come visit us or at least email us/stay in touch. Such are the best of of Christmas gifts.
May 2024 bring us closer to peace with justice.