Christmas 2009: Bethlehem with Summer Weather

Christmas 2009: Bethlehem with Summer Weather

Christmas 2009: Bethlehem with Summer Weather–An article by Dr. Bernard Sabella

Jerusalem–Amidst summer in winter, as temperatures in the last week or so ranged in the upper teens and lower twenties, people in Bethlehem were enjoying an Australia or New Zealand Christmas. In Palestine, the joy of Christmas is usually associated with the overall political and economic situation and with the health standing of family members and not necessarily with the number of gifts one receives. The joy of Christmas is also tied to peace but, needless to say, there is still no peace in the land of Christ’s birth. The prospects for peace, so many times mistakenly heralded by the most powerful leaders do not excite people here anymore. Palestinians are no longer excited by promises and speeches made by prominent politicians to bring about peace and serenity. 

Politics is like a stage and most people just sit back and watch the show.  The most important factor for the overwhelming majority is whether the political situation would allow them and their children to lead a normal life. Certainly, there are issues that need to be resolved but until this happens, most people prefer not to waste their energy on the rarely rewarding peace process. Palestinians have grown to be pragmatic. No, they do not acquiesce to Israeli military occupation but at the same time the overwhelming majority among them does not opt for violent resistance. The injustice that they see happening on the ground with home evictions and other transgressions in East Jerusalem, the separation wall, control mechanisms, checkpoints, settler provocations and land grabbing make them want to see violent resistance and wish that all settlers would disappear from their land once and for all. But all of us know that the settlers and the settlements will not disappear without a genuine and lasting peace agreement.  

On the economic side, things in Bethlehem appear to be good with the arrival of thousands of pilgrims and tourists. One souvenir shop owner on Manger Square told me on Christmas day that business is good. He praised Russian pilgrims’ purchasing power and contrasted it to the weak American one. No, he was not making a political statement but who knows? The more tourists and pilgrims arrive in Bethlehem and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories the better for all. The economic cycle that their presence generates touches all sectors. Most often, however, tourists and pilgrims visiting Bethlehem end up staying only for a couple of hours which limits the potentially positive economic impact of their visit. Many shop owners and hoteliers in Bethlehem wish that the tourists and pilgrims would stay overnight and thus liven up the town especially around Christmas time.  

The conflict in the Holy Land is not a simple one between Palestinians and Israelis. In a world where many of the young people in the Arab and Muslim countries are jobless and with no real prospects for work, study and future betterment, the Palestinian issue remains close to heart and is a strong motivation to act. The frustration that is generated by the absence of a just and lasting peace will for years act as an impetus to carry on arms and to attack the forces that are seen responsible for this grave injustice. The failure of the Western powers, and in particular the successive American Administrations, in helping resolve this conflict once and for all make them appear as responsible for the injustice as much as the Israelis. In fact, some would argue that the Western powers were responsible for creating the problem in the first place.  

Christmas, irrespective of whether it is white or sunny remains a reminder to all that injustice needs to be addressed. The future of this land cannot be one based on occupation, power and control. Without a just and lasting peace, there are no prospects for Palestinians and Israelis to come to see each other as equal. The longer it takes to arrive at such a peace, the more complications there will be not simply in Palestine and Israel but in the region and elsewhere as well. So, let us hope that 2010 would witness a serious start towards working out a genuine and lasting peace in spite of the doubts that many of us have.

*Dr. Bernard Sabella is Executive Director of the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches, a partner of Global Ministries.