… How still we see thee lie!”
Or so the Christmas carol goes. Unfortunately, Bethlehem is not the peaceful and quiet locale it likely was 2000 years ago. To travel between Jerusalem to Bethlehem, you must pass through a checkpoint to get through “the separation/apartheid/annexation wall,” not the most peaceful experience in the world (especially if you’re a Palestinian entering Israel, which I might add, only a few lucky ones even have the ability to do so). If you’re traveling from elsewhere in the West Bank, you’ll likely have your vehicle stopped at a checkpoint, too, and possibly stopped for hours, and if you’re truly unlucky, taken away to a jail somewhere.
The thought of Bethlehem, and thus Christmas, have had a different feeling for me this year since I traveled to the Holy Lands in the Spring. When I sang the first hymn at our Christmas Eve service, I teared up to sing: “Oh, come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant! Oh come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem.” Amidst the reality that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it’s hard to think about being joyful and triumphant when traveling in the region. Even though (at least most of the time) there are no Israeli soldiers stationed in Bethlehem, that doesn’t mean the occupation still isn’t felt in Bethlehem, and similar towns in the area.
Many who live in Bethlehem and used to work in Israel are no longer able to travel to Jerusalem since the wall construction began in 2002. The town is nearly completely surrounded by the wall, and artisans and others have signified such reality by adding the wall to nativity scenes people set out at Christmas time.
As the world turns to think this season about the birth of Christ and the little town of his birth some 2000 year ago, let’s not forget the current reality for Palestinians living there — and remember, too, that the little baby born would have been a Palestinian himself.