Christmas season shifts into top gear and our minds turn to who
will bring what for lunch, where lunch will be and who will be
there, let’s turn our minds, just for a few minutes, to the
birthplace of the “reason for the season”.
story tells us that Jesus was born in a manger in the town of
Bethlehem, just down the road from Jerusalem. The same story
tells us that prior to his birth his mum and dad had to flee
their home country as refugees.
As we follow
the story we find that after the king who caused their exile
died, they were able to return home. But much had changed since
their sojourn abroad had begun. There was no room at the inn.
his pregnant bride were offered the stables at the back of the
inn and it was there that the little baby Jesus was born. In
modern Bethlehem you can visit the Church of the Nativity just
off Manger square.
at this time of year the Palestinian Christians are gearing up
for their celebrations. Unfortunately for them, this year will
be one of the worst since the Occupation began.
recall that for the last three and a half years we’ve been
hearing the neo-con cheer squad belting out their chant “What do
we want?” “Peace and Democracy.” “Where so we want it?” “In the
Middle East.” “When do we want it?” “Now”!
the Palestinians had the gall to imbibe in the fount of
democracy and hold elections that were deemed by the
International Observers, including the former US president Jimmy
Carter, to be as good as anything we get in the so call “free
democracies” of the West. The unfortunate thing was they elected
the “wrong” party – Hamas.
the US, Australia and many European nations have turned off
their aid tap. Israel, the chief protagonist in the region, also
stopped their internationally mandated support, violating the
conventions that it had signed. Even though their aid was
nothing more than a slow drip feed – not enough to sustain life
in the ever decreasing Palestinian territories – it was part of
the deals Israel has that allow it to receive funding from the
And so it is
that in the land of the birth of the “Peacemaker” and “Giver of
Life”, poverty, deprivation and suffering is enforced at the end
of guns, under the tracks of tanks, on the blank, unsigned
cheques and in the empty promises of the so called “developed
While we fret
over the cost of this year’s turkey and trimmings, many
Palestinians, especially those in the refugee camps, wonder
where and how they will spend Christmas. The widows will weep
over their dead husbands and the orphans over their dead
parents. The Israeli army will, no doubt, continue their
intimidation and humiliation of the descendants of the Christ’s
What I find
incredible at this time of year is that our churches don’t come
out and call a spade a spade. Now that the Israeli PM, Ehud
Olmert, has admitted that Israel has nuclear weapons, some of us
eagerly wait for him or one of the other US coached Israeli
officials to admit that their treatment of the Palestinians and
the construction of the 10 metre high, concrete wall is also
illegal and inhuman.
Christian churches are happy to preach “good will to all men (sic)”
and “peace on earth”, I find it incredible that they don’t come
out and condemn the treatment of the people who have more in
common with the man Jesus than we do with the Jews.
are afraid that if they say something too close to the truth
they won’t make it onto the evening news on Christmas day.
However, here’s a strategy that seems to work amongst the
‘coalition of the willing’. If they all say the same thing, then
no matter how it’s covered, what they want to say will be the
only thing that gets broadcast.
But no. Alas.
I fear that the churchmen and women who will preach the
Christmas day sermon will only make passing reference to the
suffering of the people in the land of their saviour’s birth.
They may pray for peace in the “complicated” circumstances.
Perhaps they may even pray for “justice” in the Middle East but
very few of them will actively call on their congregations to
oppose the illegal occupation of Christ’s homeland.
those that will call on their congregations to rise up and call
the actions of the Israeli government what it is – an atrocity
of monumental proportions – can probably be counted on one hand.
These few brave souls and the people they shepherd will not make
it onto the evening news. No. That is reserved for pictures and
words that reassure us the suffering of the world is well
removed and distant from us.
told CNN in February this year, just after the Palestinian
elections, that he hoped “the people of Palestine - who already
suffer … under Israeli occupation - will not suffer because they
are deprived of a right to pay their school teachers, policemen,
welfare workers, health workers and provide food for people.”
This year as
our thoughts turn to the end of year parties, the thoughts of
those who live around Manger square will turn to how to feed
themselves and their loved ones. While we focus on getting the
shopping done, the Palestinians whose homes have been encircled
by the concrete wall and who can no longer access their farms,
will wonder how the rest of the world could abandon them.
even amongst this hardship and dispossession, Palestinians will
find time to laugh and love and share, regardless of their
religious faith. While we will count the cost after Christmas
and lament the amounts we spent, Palestinian children will do
what all kids do and play with each other creating imaginary
worlds free of bossy adults and jet fighters that bring sonic
When I was
young I used to look forward to Christmas. These days I find its
meaning has completely gone, replaced by the superficiality of
self indulgence and ego. So while I will spend Christmas safe
and happy with my family, we will, once more, set aside an empty
plate to remember those whose suffering is so often ignored.