Christmas in Bethlehem is the Loneliest Christmas in the World

12 Dec

Christmas in Palestine is unlike any experienced by any Church in the world. Even though, Palestinians reside in the small town where Jesus was born and their fields and hilltops is where Jesus and his sheep roamed. Their orchards and olive trees shaded Jesus and his disciples, and His sermons were heard by their ancestors. Palestinians celebrate Christmas alone and isolated behind Israel’s Separation Wall. They are isolated in their walled off churches, towns, and communities. Abandoned they struggle to protect Christendom’s first churches. The biblical stories Palestinians recite are an affirmation of their connection to the first Christians. And bearing witness to injustice is the heavy cross they carry.

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Mai Abdul Rahman     December 2020

Ignored by the vast majority of Christians, Christmas season in Palestine is unlike any experienced by any Church in the world. Advent marks the birth of the faith of the Palestinian Christians and their truth. Jesus lived and sheltered in their fields. He witnessed a heartless world, confronted injustice, and defended the vulnerable. No place on earth is more callous than the Israeli occupied and militarized Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

For the Palestinian Christians, observing Advent is defined by their uninterrupted connection to the first followers of the Christian faith and shaped by their daily hardships and witness to injustice. During Advent, Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus. For the Christians of Palestine, it marks the beginning of their faith and cruel truths.

In Palestine, preparing for Advent and celebrating Christmas requires greater effort, ceaseless worry, and abundance of faith. The desperate world Jesus lived is affirmed in the daily trials of ordinary Palestinians. Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in their little town of Bethlehem to bring joy to the world. The birth of Jesus is celebrated by lighting Christmas trees in distinctive town squares across the world. Bethlehem’s Christmas tree is lit right beneath Israel’s illegal wall and watch towers. Like Jesus, Palestinians live in an unjust and merciless world.

Celebrating Advent is ordinary and effortless for most Christians. But not for the Palestinian Christians. It requires special permits from Israel’s military administrators. During Advent church pastors and bishops recite the story of Jesus, his birth, life and family that hailed from Nazareth (An-Nasira)– sixty miles away from the Church of Bethlehem. For Palestinians the prospect of traveling 3,232 miles to Sweden is more plausible than clearing the 103 military manned Israeli check points that separate Bethlehem from An-Nasira.

Palestinians never take for granted the most ordinary and simple acts of faith. Advent under Israel’s unpredictable political climate and military occupation is a test of faith. Fulfilling the same customs set by their ancestors is a trial of endurance. Even lighting the first peace lamp with freshly pressed olive oil and the last peace lamp is a formidable challenge. No place on earth is like the Israeli occupied and militarized Palestine.

During Advent, the story of Jesus and the heartless world He experienced are abstractly described by bishops and clerics around the world. For the Palestinians, the heartless world Jesus confronted is an imposed conditions made possible by the mercilessness of neighbors and strangers. The life and world Jesus encountered is their living experience.

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During the last week of Advent, pastors and priests retell the story of the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks at night and were foretold of the birth of Jesus. Palestinian shepherds roam those same fields keeping watch over their flocks afraid of Israel’s settlers who at will could harm them. As an infant, Jesus promised peace on earth, ultimate and permanent peace, but the peace HE promised has yet materialize for the descendents of the first church.

Palestinian Christians celebrate Christmas within their walled and sieged churches. The tiny manger where Jesus was born is kept in the Church Bethlehem under the watchful eyes of Israel’s military occupation soldiers. Their access to their beloved church is never taken for granted.

On Christmas Day, Catholic and Protestant clerics will bear their ecclesiastical vestments that display Palestinian traditional dalmatic embroidery that was first worn by Palestinian clerics. They will quote the scripture that was elucidated by early Palestinian scholars. Yet, few if any, will utter a word of concern about the plight of the Palestinian Christians. Their daily struggle is ignored.

Jesus defended the innocent. Cruelty is facilitated in the land and fields where Jesus protected the vulnerable. By any means necessary, Christian Zionists want Palestinians to relinquish their ancestral lands to the Israeli settlers. They strategically choose to intensify the tension and conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. They scheme to empty and reshape the Palestinian landscape. By funding and expanding Israel’s illegal settlements the Christian Zionists encourage the robbing Palestinian lands, fields, and water. Their goal is to affect the life and livelihood Palestinians. In their view, Palestinian Christians are casual victims in their plot and scheme to hasten Armageddon.  

Ignored and abandoned, the Palestinian Christians live the true meaning of Advent all year long. They faithfully advocate peace for friend and foe and honor the faith of their forefathers. They speak truth to power and work for justice and peace for their own people, and their occupiers. They shoulder and carry the cross saddled upon them with grace.

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