O Little Town of Bethelehem…

Friday 26 December 2008

… 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.

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my protest

Wednesday 19 March 2008

As we mark today the 5th anniversary of the start of the current US war in/occupation of Iraq, (hopefully) a million or more will take to the streets around the country and the world as a protest to this war many call a quagmire. I’m all for taking it to the streets, and I think it’s a very valuable and necessary thing to do, but right now I wanted to take a portion of my lunch break to offer up my protest.

Did you hear of the “Winter Soldier” event held this past weekend? It brought together Iraq War veterans to speak about their experiences. The stories I listened to were heartbreaking, and I know the brought tears to many eyes. This story by Jon Michael Turner was perhaps the worst for me:

“On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him ‘the fat man.’ He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t let that happen.’ So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away. We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.” (More of his stories can be found here.)

Democracy Now! has been covering this story all this week (including Tuesday and Today), but as DN noted “Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.” If we ever come to prosecute for war crimes in relation to this war, will we hold these sources as accomplices? And as John Michael Turner said, “… any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books.”

And while we’re talking about the media, what about Lynndie England chastising the media for their role in uncovering the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? In her words: “If the media hadn’t exposed the pictures to that extent then thousands of lives would have been saved.” There was definitely retaliation by insurgents after the photos were revealed, but does that mean they should have been hidden instead? That’s almost like blaming the fire department for the water damage they left in your house as they attempted to put out the fire instead of looking at the arsonist who actually set the blaze. Why do we so easily fail to look at the root causes of situations and instead blame intermediaries (i.e. we blame the homeless war veteran instead of the one who sent her or him to war in the first place)?

We must open our eyes to the world around us. We must examine the motives of all people — those we despise and those we hold dear. We must work to put people in leadership positions who will truly work for the betterment of ALL people, not just “the rich,” and not even just Americans. As H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama said, we are to contribute to others’ happiness, and he gives no distinction to nationality or other barriers. If we want a revolution — as another great peacemaker said — “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Ghandi) Let’s actually be that change.