[News] If they can do nothing to save Bethlehem, they can at least stop singing a carol that mocks its sad reality.

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 26 13:15:58 EST 2018


  I had a vivid experience of what Israel's occupation feels like

By Ghada Karmi - December 25, 2018
"O little town of Bethlehem/How still we see thee lie/Above thy deep and 
dreamless sleep/The silent stars go by," runs the famous Christmas carol 
sung all over the English-speaking world as it celebrates Christmas. On 
Christmas Eve midnight mass will sound out from Bethlehem's Church of 
the Nativity, the legendary birthplace of Jesus Christ, proclaiming he 
will bring "peace to men on earth".

*The real Bethlehem
*Nothing could be further from the truth than the image of a sweet, 
untroubled Bethlehem as depicted in a carol originally created by the 
pious imagination of a Victorian Western-Christian. Generations of 
Christian children have been brought up on it, and its mythical power is 
such that few of them realize what or even where Bethlehem is.

A well-educated English friend I had known for years was recently 
surprised to learn that Bethlehem was located in Palestine. In her mind 
the town was more a legend than an actual place, and connected to Jews, 
if to anyone.

That idea is still widespread and has been instrumental in keeping 
Western-Christians disengaged from the real Bethlehem and unsupportive 
of its struggle for survival. The city I saw on a visit earlier this 
year was a travesty of the place the Christmas carol depicts and an 
indictment of Western Christianity's abject failure to sustain one of 
its holiest shrines.

In today's Bethlehem "dreamless sleep" is more like a nightmare, and the 
town can only "lie still" when Israel's occupation ends.

*Israel's brutal vandalism
*Bethlehem and its outlying villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour have 
been traditionally the most Christian of Palestine's places, even though 
Bethlehem has a Muslim majority now. Until Israel's occupation in 1967 
the city had been an important social, cultural and economic hub, and 
one of Palestine's most ancient localities. Its name "Beit Lahem" goes 
back to Canaanite times, when it was a shrine to the Canaanite god, Lahm 
or Lahem.

Its architecture is testament to its rich history: Roman and Byzantine, 
when the Empress Helena had the Church of the Nativity built over the 
supposed cave of Jesus' birthplace in 327; followed by the Muslim 
conquests of 637, and then the crusader occupation from 1099 until ended 
by Saladin in 1187; the succeeding Ottomans built the city's walls in 
the early 16th century, their rule terminated by the British Mandate 
from 1922 to 1948.

In 1995 Bethlehem was transferred to Palestinian Authority control, 
although it remains under Israel's overall rule.

Despite their variation, none of these preceding historical periods was 
ever associated with the brutal vandalism and destructiveness of 
Israel's current occupation

Despite their variation, none of these preceding historical periods was 
ever associated with the brutal vandalism and destructiveness of 
Israel's current occupation. Leaving Jerusalem southwards to travel the 
nine kilometer distance to Bethlehem, I took a wrong turn and found 
myself on a fast, modern highway without another Palestinian driver in 

I had stumbled by accident onto a Jews-only settler bypass road, one of 
two that skirt Bethlehem and connect with its encircling settlements. I 
soon realized the purpose of the operation: To pretend that no one else 
exists in the area but Jews.

*A sad place
*There are 22 Israeli settlements encircling Bethlehem, cutting off its 
exits and confiscating its agricultural land. They glower down from the 
surrounding hills and house more settlers than all of Bethlehem and its 
neighborhoods. To the north is Har Homa, a settlement that until 2000 
was an ancient, densely wooded hill called Jabal Abu Ghneim.

Israel uprooted the trees and replaced them with a colony of dreary, 
box-like houses, which it threatened to turn into a Bethlehem look-alike 
for tourists. Nokidim, to the east, is the current residence of Israel's 
hard-line former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

Since 2015 Israel has closed off Bethlehem's fertile Cremisan Valley to 
its Palestinian owners, and announced in June of this year a massive 
settlement expansion along the route between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Rachel’s tomb, Bethlehem’s historic landmark on the main 
Jerusalem-Bethlehem road and an area traditionally buzzing with shops 
and restaurants, is now blocked off by the wall and reserved exclusively 
for Jews. Muslim worshippers who venerated the tomb (and built it) 
cannot go there. It is a sad place, deserted and lifeless. In the shadow 
of the wall most businesses have closed and as the noose tightens around 
Bethlehem, none will be left.

Israel's relentless penetration to the heart of Bethlehem is 
unmistakable. Bethlehem is deliberately isolated behind the formidable 
separation barrier, surrounded by checkpoints, and its economy 
strangulated. Its main source of prosperity had been tourism with two 
million annual visitors and a thriving souvenir market of classic olive 
wood and mother-of-pearl carvings.

It was also a rich agricultural area with a successful wine industry. 
But most of its land has been confiscated, and draconian restrictions on 
movement to and from Bethlehem have reduced tourism and pilgrim numbers 
drastically. Today its population of 220,00, including 20,000 refugees, 
have the highest unemployment rate in the occupied territories, second 
only to that of Gaza.

*Saving Bethlehem
*Sitting in the "cafe" outside the Walled Off Hotel at the entrance to 
Bethlehem, I had a vivid experience of what Israel's occupation feels 
like. The hotel is in effect a piece of installation art, created by the 
British artist, Banksy, to highlight the plight of Bethlehem.

The only view from the hotel windows is of Israel's hideous eight-meter 
wall, whose huge grey slabs are a mere car's width away.

Stretching forward, you can almost touch it. I remember how its sinister 
watchtowers and surveillance cameras bore down on me oppressively. It 
was a scene out of a horror film.

To date, and despite church delegations, papal visits, and public 
expressions of concern, nothing Christians have done has halted or 
reversed Israel's destruction of a city so uniquely holy to Christendom. 
If they can do nothing to save Bethlehem, they can at least stop singing 
a carol that mocks its sad reality.

/- Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian doctor, academic and author. Her article 
appeared in Middle East Eye.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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