Bethlehem at Christmas
Sir, – The Irish Times reported (World News, December 20th) that this year Christians from Gaza will not be allowed to visit Bethlehem during Christmas for “security reasons”. As we sing carols about the “little town of Bethlehem”, we might also reflect that Christians in Bethlehem have been cut off from their traditional lands in the Cremisan Valley by the 26ft concrete wall built by the Israeli army around the city. The Cremisan Monastery that used to provide youth and other social services for Bethlehem is now on the wrong side of the wall and can no longer serve the community. Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlements continue to grow around Bethlehem on Palestinian land in contravention of international law.
The nativity story in Luke’s gospel tells us that the birth of Jesus took place against the background of Roman occupation in the days of the Emperor Augustus. Christians in Bethlehem today will celebrate the birth of Jesus in the shadow of the continuing illegal occupation of the West Bank of Palestine by Israel. In a statement by Palestinian Christians (Kairos Palestine) issued on November 29th, they state, “We are experiencing the continued dispossession of our land, our freedom and our human rights.”
The angel’s song speaks of “peace on earth” and “goodwill”. We are still waiting for peace in Bethlehem and an end to the occupation. – Yours, etc,