Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas in Occupied Bethlehem

Dear friends and supporters,

The festive season is once again upon us and many of us will be spending time with our loved ones and friends. For many of us, this is a time of reflection and celebration. For those of us who are religious, Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Christ and to celebrate; for those who are not so religious but come from a Christian background, we have been taught that this time of year is a time of joy, celebration of family and renewed hope for our loved ones and people around the world.

During this time, many of us in Australia (whether we are religious or not so religious) will sing songs of joy remembering a little town called Bethlehem on the other side of the world. For many of us, our image of Bethlehem is a peaceful little rural/pastoral village, awash with shepards and sheep. The Bethlehem that we know and imagine is the one we see on the front of Christmas cards or the one we read about in the bible or heard about at church services. Today, however, the real Bethlehem is very different. While it is a town of incredible beauty, it is also a city under siege and occupation.

Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Christ, is also part of Occupied Palestine.

As part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the residents of Bethlehem – both Christian and Muslim – suffer each day under the brutal and illegal Israeli occupation. In Bethlehem, the town of the Christ’s birth, there is no freedom of movement, there are checkpoints and curfews and there are constant invasions by the Israeli military.

In this beautiful city, the Palestinian residents, like their brothers and sisters in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories suffer home invasions and home demolitions, leaving families without shelter or comfort. The residents of Bethlehem –whether Christian or Muslim – like their brothers and sisters in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza – are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention without charge or trail. Their brothers, sisters, son and daughters, teenagers and young men and women, their fathers and mothers are taken in the dead of night (and often in broad daylight) to Israeli prisons, where they are interrogated and are often tortured.

Throughout this beautiful city, there is razor wire, steel cages, Israeli occupation soldiers and an ugly concrete apartheid wall, 8 metres high (28 feet) – three times the height of the Berlin Wall, topped with watchtowers and snipers nests - dividing families and communities, stealing land and water resources. The illegal wall, now three quarters built, cuts Bethlehem residents off from 70% of their land.

In Beit Sahour, where Shepard’s Field is located (the place traditionally attributed with where the angels announced to the Shepards the birth of the Christ) thousands of dunams of Palestinian agricultural land has been confiscated and stolen. On some of this land, the Apartheid Wall has been built, the rest of it has been annexed to become part of the illegal Israeli settlements that surround Bethlehem. In the last few weeks, despite all the pomp and ceremony of the Annapolis conference, Israel announced that it would expand the illegal settlement around Bethlehem, such as Har Homa, further.

In the rest of the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem, Israel continues to also demolish homes, steal and annex land, carry out mass arrests, restrict freedom of movement, impose curfews and carryout home invasions. In the first two weeks of December alone, more than 30 Palestinian were killed by Israeli occupation forces, while another 34 were injured. Israeli occupation forces also arrested 84 Palestinian civilians, including 5 children, razed 155 dunams of Palestinian agricultural land, invaded and terrorized 41 Palestinian communities in the West Bank and carried out several invasions in the Gaza.

In Gaza, Israel has imposed a total siege, illegally carrying out collective punishment against 1.4 million Palestinian civilians, cutting of their electricity, gas and water supplies.

As a result of the Israel blockade, which has been sanctioned by the US and Europe, Palestinian hospitals are reporting zero stock availability for 90 drugs, including pediatric drugs and anti-biotics, as well as shortages of chronic disease drugs, cancer treatment drugs and kidney dialysis drugs and IV glucose solution. More than 15 patients have died at the Gaza borders due the refusal of Israeli security forces to allow them to access medical treatment in the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan or Israel. Doctors have warned of a looming epidemics of typhoid and hepatitis.

Fuel, which is needed for just about everything, including cooking, running hospitals, schools, purifying, sterilizing and pumping water, running garbage collection trucks, ambulances and ordinary vehicles is increasingly expensive and scarce. 80,00 workers are now jobless, their families going hungry, due to the Israeli blockade which has forced the closure of hundreds of factories in the wood, clothing, food, construction and agricultural industries.

In this season of joy and goodwill to our fellow human beings, please remember the struggle of Palestinian people for human rights, freedom and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

In 2008, please consider how you can join the campaign for a free Palestine:

It can be as simple as writing letters to your local paper or your local poltical representative in support of the Palestinian people's right to justice and freedom and/or joining a Palestine solidarity group in your town/city and/or making a donation to aid the Palestinian people under siege in Gaza.

Palestinian Red Crescent Society (Gaza Appeal)

Break the Siege - Free Gaza Campaign

Palestine Relief Fund Australia

You can also become part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign:

Palestine BDS Campaign:

Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott

It could also include considering joining the international struggle by coming to Palestine as part of one of the solidarity organisations based or working in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories (or make a donation to assist their work).

International Women’s Peace Service

International Solidarity Movement

Anarchists Against the Wall

Whatever you chose to do, it DOES make a difference.

Merry Christmas (and Eid Muburak) to all.

For an end to the illegal Israeli occupation and justice and freedom for the Palestinian people in 2008!

in solidarity, Kim


Yishai Kohen said...

Gaza's Christians keep low profile during Christmas

Strip's Christian community reports of a 'sad Christmas,' as many who plan to travel to Bethlehem for holiday say they won't return

Associated Press

Few Christmas trees are on display in Gaza, churches are holding austere services and hundreds of Christians hope to travel to the West Bank to celebrate the holiday in Bethlehem. Many say they don't plan on returning to Gaza.

"We have a very sad Christmas," said Essam Farah, acting pastor of Gaza's Baptist Church, which has canceled its annual children's party because of the grim atmosphere. About 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim society of 1.5 million people.

The two religions have generally had cordial relations over the years. That relationship has been shaken since Hamas seized control of Gaza last June, and especially following the recent death of 32-year-old Rami Ayyad.

Ayyad, a member of the Baptist Church, managed Gaza's only Christian bookstore and was involved in many charitable activities. He was found shot in the head, his body thrown on a Gaza street in early October, 10 hours after he was kidnapped from the store. He regularly received death threats from people angry about his perceived missionary work - a rarity among Gaza's Christians - and the store was firebombed six months before the kidnapping.

No group claimed responsibility for the killing, and no one has openly accused Hamas of persecution. But Christians fear that the Hamas takeover, along with the lack of progress in finding Ayyad's killers, has emboldened Islamic extremists.

Hamas has tried to calm jittery Christians with reassuring handshakes and official visits promising justice. Hamas "will not spare any effort to find the culprits of this crime and bring them to justice," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. He insisted the killing was simply a "crime" and not religiously motivated.

At the Baptist Church on Sunday, just 10 people attended the regular weekly prayer service, down from an average of 70. There was no Christmas tree in sight.

Farah said the church's full-time pastor, along with his family and 12 employees of Ayyad's store, have relocated to the West Bank to wait out the tense atmosphere. Farah said he prayed for forgiveness and love among Muslims and Christians.

Christians leaving Gaza

Community leaders say an unprecedented number of Christian families are already migrating from Gaza - rattled by the religious tensions and tough economic sanctions Israel imposed on the area after the Hamas takeover.

While no official statistics were available, the signs of the flight are evident. Rev. Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic church, said he alone knows of seven families that sold their properties and left the area, and 15 more are preparing to do the same.

Musallem blamed Israeli sanctions and excessive violence in Gaza for the flight: "In previous years we didn't see this rate of migration," Musallem said. "Now, exit is not on individual basis. Whole families are leaving, selling their cars, homes and all their properties."

The signs of despair are evident at Ayyad's home. Posters declaring him a "Martyr of Jesus" hang on the walls. Ayyad's older brother, 35-year old Ibrahim, said his 6-year old son, Khedr, was nagged in school about his uncle's murder. Muslim schoolmates call him "Infidel."

Ayyad's wife, Pauline, 29, left for Bethlehem a month ago with her two children. She said their 3-year-old son, George, has been shattered by his father's death. "I tell him Papa Noel (Santa Claus) is coming to see you, and he tells me he wants Papa Rami," she said tearfully during a telephone interview. Pauline, who is seven months pregnant, said she plans to come back to Gaza for the birth.

But many Christians privately said they would use their travel permits to leave Gaza for good, even if that means remaining in the West Bank as illegal residents. Israeli security officials said they were permitting 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas.

Those who are staying are trying to limit the risks. Nazek Surri, a Roman Catholic, walked out from Sunday's service with a Muslim-style scarf covering her head. "We have to respect the atmosphere we are living in. We have to go with the trend," she said.,7340,L-3485896,00.html

Yishai Kohen said...

Oh, and by the way, Jesus was a "Jewish settler" by your definition.

Kim said...

Oh dear Yishai, again running off at the mouth and not knowing what you are talking about.



(And for the slow amongst us lilke Yishai, Judaisim is a religion, not a nationality or an ethnicity).

This is why there exists and had done for centuries Palestinian Muslims, Palestinan Muslims and Palestinan Jews.

Jesus' family unlike the majority of illegal ISRAELI settlers of today in Palestine did not jump on a plane and fly from Russia, the USA or Europe.

Kim said...

Opps, that should have read, Palestinian Muslism, Palsestinian Christians and Palestinian Jews!

Yishai Kohen said...

1. LOL! There's no such thing as "Palestine" Kim. YOU know that.


Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king (Matthew 2:1)

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea... (Matthew 2:5)

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda... (Matthew 2:6)

And on and on.

3. As ANYONE knows, we're not a religion. This is why non-religious Jews are Jews too. We are a NATION:

Exodus 19:6 But you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy NATION.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8 For you are a NATION consecrated to the L-rd your G-d: of all the NATIONS on earth the L-rd your G-d chose you to be His treasured NATION. It is not because you are the most numerous of NATIONS that the L-rd set His heart on you and chose you indeed, you are the smallest of NATIONS; but it was because the L-rd favored you and kept the oath He made to your fathers that the L-rd freed you with a mighty hand and rescued you from the house of bondage, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 14:2 For you are a NATION consecrated to the L-rd your G-d: the L-rd your G-d chose you from among all other NATIONS on earth to be His treasured NATION.

Deuteronomy 26:5 You shall then recite as follows before the L-rd your G-d: My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous NATION.

And on and on.

And the state of Israel is the state of the NATION of Israel.

The Arabs will just have to stoptrying to steal what isn't theirs:

"And Abraham gave ALL that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, he gave gifts and sent them away from his son while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country." (Genesis 25:5-6)

Ishmael was the son of Hagar, a concubine.

They can go to THEIR lands in the "east country".