If you have a miniature manger in your home today, or if you’ve heard a piece of music in the mall with “Bethlehem” in it, I — as a Palestinian Christian in whose life Bethlehem has played a big role — have a favor to ask you: Please go to your computer and do a search using these words: “Bethlehem Christmas wall.” Check out some of the articles and the images. If your curiosity is piqued, go a bit further and check out the images for “al Masara village,” or “al Walaja village,” two tiny villages near Bethlehem. I think this is an important exercise for anyone who has formed a mental image of the Little Town of Bethlehem during this holiday season.
Today, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas still have some of the holiest churches of Christianity, and they still vibrate with the prayers and celebrations of Palestinian Christians. But the Palestinians of Bethlehem, Christians and Muslims alike, are a people besieged. For Bethlehem today is surrounded by a host of physical barriers, including several miles of a concrete wall that is over 20 feet high, built by the Israeli occupation authorities.
This wall — deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 — separates the Palestinians of the Bethlehem area from huge swaths of their land. Much of that land has been taken from them to build Jewish-only settlements that are also illegal under international law. These Jewish settlements surround the Palestinian communities of the Bethlehem area, hemming them into a limited geographic area, like a tiny Bantustan, isolating them from occupied East Jerusalem, the economic, cultural, and spiritual heart of Palestinian life. Just this week, the Israeli government announced that it had approved plans for new construction in the nascent settlement of Givat Hamatos, which lies between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a move swiftly condemned by European diplomats as a “game changer” that could end the possibility of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
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