Ushering in Christmas 2016  – Call for hope and justice

Palestine Updates 5

Editorial Preface

Christmas celebrations in Palestine will naturally be boosted by the gift of a UN Security Council demanding as halt to settlements. It is clear that Israel will not respect the UN call to stop settlement activity. The larger picture is the one that offers hope. A growing pro-justice audience in favour of Palestine US has succeeded over traditional lobbies that have hitherto blocked the US from any form of support- tacit or otherwise – to the Palestinians. It remains to be seen if the vote will mark a change in international dynamics. Trump may find himself as isolated as Israel if he persists with his line of political strategy. But, if the streets of the world continue to signal their support for justice for Palestinians in a huge way, then governments will be obliged to listen. Changing public perceptions about the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause is of overriding importance.

In this issue of Palestine Update we bring you a message of hope and justice from the PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas coupled with an information piece from John Kelly, vice-chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, who recounts a visit paid to Bethlehem earlier this year.

Christmas time is also a reminder of the grim political circumstances prevailing in Palestine. With only limited access to restricted access to holy sites in Jerusalem not all Christians can enter Bethlehem freely. Protesters dressed as Santa Claus were tear-gassed when they by Israeli forces ahead of Christmas celebrations when they chanted slogans and displayed signs demanding free access.

Al Jazeera reporting from Bethlehem describes a mood of cautious optimism among the Palestinians after the UN Security Council called for an end to illegal Israeli settlements. That optimism does not obfuscate the harsh reminder of a painful sign just down the road from the Church of the Nativity, punctuated by a settlement of 25,000 Israeli homes. The settlements hinder the path from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem and obstruct the prospects of peace.

To end this Update, allow me to leave you with a Franciscan benediction:

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers,
at half truths and superficial relationships
so that we may live deeply within our hearts…

May God bless us
with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation…

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in this world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Ranjan Solomon

PA Chief affirms that Christmas brings a message of hope and justice
On the eve of Christmas, President Mahmoud Abbas cited Christmas as the Palestinian call for hope and justice. He stated: “Despite the Israeli occupation, our presence in our homeland and the preservation of our cultural and national heritage are the most important form of resistance in the face of the darkness of a foreign colonialist occupying power.” Christmas is “a Palestinian call for hope and justice,” which is “a unique message that we have been carrying generation after generation, as a precious treasure that began in Palestine and is celebrated all over the world.”

We enter 50 years of Israeli occupation, the longest military occupation in modern history. Abbas underlined how “despite Bethlehem’s religious and historical significance, the town was not spared the brutality of decades of humiliation, colonization and Apartheid…“Jesus’ place of birth is a city now surrounded by 18 illegal Israeli settlements and divided by the illegal Annexation Wall, including the latest illegal Israeli steps to construct the Wall at the Cremisan Valley…Israeli occupation policies have cut Bethlehem’s connection with Jerusalem, both an integral part of the occupied State of Palestine, for the first time in 2000 years of Christianity.”

“The message of hope, the message of justice and peace brought by Jesus from a humble Grotto in Bethlehem shall prevail over the darkness of exile, colonization, unlawful imprisonment, and Apartheid.”
Read full message in Maann News release

Spare a thought for Bethlehem
John Kelly, vice-chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, recounts a visit paid to Bethlehem in January this year to the birthplace of Christ and the place where Christmas originated.  He reminds us that “it is appropriate to remember just how much the occupants of Bethlehem are affected by the illegal occupation” and shares information so pertinent to our understanding of how the occupation invades every aspect of Palestinian life in a cruel way.
The following information is useful to bear in mind.
Read more on the Liberal Democratic Voice website.

Palestinian protesters in Santa suits clash with Israel Defence Force
Palestinian protesters; some dressed as Santa Claus, clashed with Israeli forces on Friday ahead of Christmas celebrations in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem. Several dozen protesters, chanting slogans and carrying signs, approached Israel’s West Bank separation barrier when forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse them. Protesters and forces also scuffled near the barrier. The protesters were demanding unrestricted access to holy sites in Jerusalem.
See video link

Christians defy hurdles of occupation – flock to Bethlehem
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world together with local Christians have gathered in the biblical town of Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territory of West Bank to celebrate Christmas Eve in the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Christmas festivities have brought a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the population. Rula Maaya, the Palestinian tourism minister, said “All people over the world are looking at Bethlehem, so we hope more and more tourists will come during the year and that, next year, we will celebrate Christmas without occupation.

“Al Jazeera reporting from Bethlehem said there was a mood of optimism among the Palestinians there after the UN Security Council passed a resolution on Friday calling for an end to illegal Israeli settlements. Christmas does not wipe out the harsh reminders of the occupation. “Just down the road from the Church of the Nativity, there is a settlement of 25,000 Israeli homes,” an Al Jazeera reporter said. The settlements obstruct the path from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. It obstructs the prospects of peace.
Read more on Al Jazeera website.

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem today
From Nazareth to Bethlehem would be a normal two-hour journey. That sadly is either out of bounds for many and cumbersome for all Palestinians. It would be hazardous and strenuous to say the least. This video captures this impasse.
Watch this video for an account of reality in Palestine today