Nine years ago between 20 -27 December, as in several previous years, I moved from Hebron to Bethlehem to participate in the celebrations of the Christmas celebrations and to write about the event. I was staying at the residence of Bethlehem Bible College. Dr. Bishara Awad, Director of the college and his wife Salwa, Dr. Alex Awad, a professor at the College and his wife Brenda, welcomed me as in the previous years. They treated me with great courtesy and concern for my comfort, so much so that I felt as a member of the Awad family and as a welcome guest at the college.
I would leave the college every day and tour around Bethlehem. I would talk with Christians and Muslims, and everybody felt the happiness and joy of the holy Christmas. Muslims were waiting for Christmas exactly like Christians. In Palestine there is no difference between Muslims and Christians, everyone is equal and this tradition is celebrated by the adherents of both faiths. The ONLY obstacle during Christmas and other holidays was and is the zionist occupation, which assassinates the happiness, the joy, and the peaceful life of all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims equally.
Before 1993 and the signing of the so-called “Oslo peace agreement”, the Christmas celebrations were much nicer, much more comfortable than the celebrations I joined later and until 2002. It is sad to be forced to say that the Christmas celebrations under the horrible regime of the Israeli occupation were better than they are nowadays under the Palestinian Authority.
Since the signing of the Oslo agreement and its secret accessories, the demography of Palestine has changed. Everything was changed in TOP SILENCE and with full connivance of the “PNA”, not only in Bethlehem but in all Palestinian cities, towns and villages. The Octopus of the zionist occupation became more dangerous and worse than before with the criminal connivance of the PNA. The theft of Palestinian lands and the expansion of the colonies increased while the Palestinian themselves were happy to establish a useless administration, the “PNA” in return for a bunch of the miserable “VIP” cards for select functionaries and some thousands of para-military gangsters, riff-raff with different nationalities who were trained by several Arab dictatorships – US and UK colonies in all but name – who not-so-secretly befriend israel. (Click on the small images to make them bigger).
The theft of the Palestinian agricultural lands of Jabal Abu Ghnien in Bethlehem, the establishment of the zionist colony “Har Homa”, the division of the Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Hebron main street, the theft of the Islamic the Waqf building of Bethlehem, the ethnic cleansing and illegal appropriation of the northern district of Bethlehem (from the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, the so-called “Rachel’s Tomb”, until Jerusalem), the theft of the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque, the closure of the Muslim cemetery near the mosque, the closure of the Aida refugee camp, the apartheid wall and the establishment of the Iron border, these were all result of the so-called “Oslo peace agreement”.
I remember hoe the Christmas celebrations changed after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority under the Israeli occupation. I remember how much the obstacles for the Christian pilgrims increased each year. The worst Christmas celebrations were those place between 1999 and 2002, when the Christian religious convoy from Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour was halted in the middle of a military base of the Israeli occupation in front of the Bilal bin Rabah mosque which was stolen by the zionists and turned into a synagogue.
I saw the closure of the store of Mr. Michael Potros opposite of the Bilal bin Rabah mosque in Bethlehem. I sat several times at his store waiting for the Christians procession, for the clergymen coming from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas. In 2000, this store of a Christian Palestinian was closed by a military decision. All the surrounding area was declared a “military zone” so that the violent colonial squatters could pray undisturbed at the stolen mosque of Bilal ben Rabah. Mr. Potros and his family were forced to go to hell.
I saw how “Israel” violates the sanctity of the Christmas and how the occupation humiliates the dignity of the Christian clergy. They were all stopped like detainees in front of a military base, established over the territory of the city of Bethlehem, by the depraved soldiers of Israel. They were all waiting for the convoy of Patriarch Michel Sabbah. The manifestations of depravity and hatred were clear to see on their faces, instead of the expressions of Christmas joy and happiness present in the faces of the Christians and Muslims despite all the hardships forced upon them by the occupation.
In all countries of the world religious celebrations are held in peace, not under the tension of colonial occupation. ONLY in Palestine and since over 64 years, Christmas and other religious ceremonies are held under the constant threat of the military occupier and its tight restrictions. If any other nation held the Christmas celebrations under the presence of a colonial occupation, then for sure they would expiate in the sanctity of the ceremonies and they will find their ways to the struggle in order to celebrate the Christmas in peace.
The last time I saw a procession of Patriarch Michel Sabbah, he was humiliated at his arrival to Bethlehem. He was surrounded by armed police with automatic weapons and machine guns riding horses, and accompanied by military jeeps. And I saw him get out of his car at the entrance of the Aida refugee camp in the middle of the colonial zionist soldiers, because he was not allowed to enter Bethlehem in his car. I saw the Patriarch shaking hands with the Christians, standing frightened like inmates of a concentration camp among the armed soldiers in the city of Bethlehem. When I did not hear one word of condemnation from the Patriarch, then or later, for the inhuman treatment of the Christians, for the insults by the jews to the Christian faith at his every entry to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, then I knew what it means to be a hypocrite.
This year, Arte Channel showed a program about Christmas in Bethlehem. They filmed a Christian family from Bethlehem who have a workshop for carving Christmas gifts out of wood. The Camera filmed the lady of the house at home and her ways between the workshop and the church, all of which are far away from each other. The program neatly avoided the major problem, the Apartheid walls suffocating the city of Bethlehem, the hatred of the occupation checkpoints at the entrance of the city, the jewish colonies, the ubiquitous presence of israeli soldiers.
After watching this short film I understood how much the western media is managed and manipulated. I myself know what kind of journalistic work and what kind of questions the Austrian colleagues are asking. When the moderators at press conferences beg the Austrian journalists to ask their questions, they do not ask. I have witnessed such unreal scenes more than once, where none of the journalist present asks anything. Sadly, it is enough for them to use the press releases issued before the conference starts and publish them. I have wondered if they do this because they don’t care or because they fear losing their job if they upset anybody with a question.
Also, this year, like all previous years, the Austrian state TV, ORF, runs a program which shows how Austrian children “bring the light” from Bethlehem to Austria. The same like the Arte documentary described above, they completely avoid the issue of the occupation and that these days Bethlehem is more aptly described as a concentration camp than a city. It is very sad to see how the Catholic Church supports iniquity and grave crimes against humanity with their silence.