But despite Israel's occupation and apartheid regime, the Palestinian people celebrate life. Not just every Christmas, but every day, every week, every month and every year. They resist and demand dignity and celebrate joy and happiness with those they love, in spite of Israel's brutality and human rights abuses.
Each year, Palestinian activists seek to highlight both the oppression that the Palestinian people face, while also celebrating their humanity. They display yet again their resistance and sumoud (steadfastness) against Israel's ongoing atrocities, war crimes and apartheid regime. This year, in the days before Christmas, Palestinians raised an Tree of Resistance in Occupied Bethlehem, representing oppression, life and resistance in Palestine.
The tree was raised outside of the Church of the Nativity in Occupied Bethlehem, where Jesus was supposedly born more than two millenium ago. The tree, an 2000 year old olive tree, had been recently uprooted by Israeli Occupatioin forces from the village of Bir Ouna near Occupied Bethelehem. The tree was uprooted in order for Israel to build the apartheid wall, to further segregate Palestinians in the Bethlehem area.
The 2000 year old tree now in Manager Square was decorated with symbols of Israel's occupation, as well as symbols of resistance. Decorated with tear gas canisters, as well as photos of Palestinians killed or detained by Israel's occupation forces. Amongst the decorations are also Palestinian national symbols of resistance, such as keffiyah and sling shots.
Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun explained: "The tree is our message .. we plant our roots and we are rooted to this land. Oliver trees are the trees of life. We see our people's eyes and hopes of our women and the dreams oif men reflected off this tree".
Mayor Baboun noted how all Bethlehem’s population, regardless of religion, live under occupation: “We are talking about settlements, we are talking about land confiscation, we are talking about the wall. Can you imagine, on 82 percent of the land we can do nothing without an Israeli permit? Baboun went on to note that Israel has recently decided to confiscate 25 acres of land from the northern border of the Bethlehem area, saying “this is the suffocation of Bethlehem”.
While the Christmas festivities have been limited, they have not been cancelled. According to Reverend Ashraf Tannous, Lutheran Pastor of Beit Sahour (next to Bethelehem): “Not only is it [Christmas] a Christian celebration, it is a national celebration. This celebration is celebrated by everyone regardless of religion. We are all celebrating this season.” He went on to say: “The agenda of the occupation is to stop us celebrating, to stop us lighting the tree, or singing carols...but in-spite of the desperate situation in the Holy Land we still celebrate.”
Father Jamal Khader, Rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary explained that the toning down of the Christmas celebrations (rather than cancelling them) is to send a message: “It’s a message to show there is something wrong and we cannot tolerate this injustice. This is a message for ourselves and for the world - we are still suffering.”
On 18 December, Palestinains also staged a Christmas demonstration, dressed as Santa Claus's. The protesters marched on Israel's apartheid wall in Occupied Bethlehem, shouting slogans against Israel's occupation. The protesters also carried posters which read: “Palestinian Christians and Muslims pray for this Christmas to be the last under occupation”. Israeli occupation forces opened fire on the unarmed Santa Claus clad protesters, firing tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition. At least three Palestinian protesters were injured by the live ammunition fired by the Israeli military.
I have included below photos of resistance from Occupied Bethelehem and Palestine - including photos of the resistance tree and protests earlier this week against Israel's occupation.
I have also written in previous years about the impact of Israel's occupation on Bethelehem, as well as posted up images of resistance. You can read my earlier posts by clicking here:
IMAGES OF RESISTANCE: CHRISTMAS IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE 2013
CHRISTMAS IN OCCUPIED BETHLEHEM: A LIVING CALL FOR FREEDOM AND DIGNITY
At Christmas time, occupied Bethelehem becomes the symbol for the entirity of Occupied Palestine. The struggle against Israel's occupation and apartheid regime for dignity and freedom is the struggle of all Palestinians living under occupation, as well as those living in exile and inside Palestine 48 (Israel).
As 2015 draws to a close, Palestinians have spent yet another year under Israel's brutal occupation. They have remained sumoud and have continued to resist their oppressors and the oppression they face each day, week, month and year.
Once again as the year draws to a conclusion, it is time for us to once more recommit to the struggle for a free Palestine. To stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand they have self-determination, human rights, justice, freedom and dignity.
For A Free Palestine in 2016!!
in solidarity, Kim
PHOTS BY ANNE PAQ: