Friday, December 27, 2013

O Little Town of Bethlehem

In 2012 my wife and I had the extraordinary opportunity of traveling to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to visit the Holy Land.  Having studied Biblical Archeology in college, I was excited to visit all of these archeological digs that not too many people realized what they were or why they were significant.  Some sites were only mentioned in the Bible a couple of  times.  I was like a kid in a candy store when we visited Beth Shean, Tel Dan, and Hazor.

As we made our way south towards Jerusalem, we made certain to spend a day in Bethlehem.  It was a day I will never forget.  For American terms, Bethlehem is almost a suburb of Jerusalem.  They are that close to each other.  However, in Palestinian terms, they might as well be a world away.  When we drove up to Bethlehem, our Jewish-Israeli tour guides got off the bus.  Our driver was a Bedouin Arab with Israeli citizenship.  Since 1995, Bethlehem, which has a majority Palestinian population, has been under the Palestinian Authority.

When we drove up to Bethlehem, it sent shivers down my spine.  I did not have thoughts of the song "O Little Town of Bethlehem" singing through my head.  Instead, I was confronted by a huge concrete wall that would put the Berlin Wall to shame.  Having lived in Germany for 10 years (after the fall of the wall), I had an eerie feeling as I saw this portion of the wall after entering Bethlehem:

The quote from President John F. Kennedy, "Ich bin ein Berliner," sent waves of uneasiness into my soul.

The stated purpose of this wall (barrier, or more euphemistically, "fence") by Yitzhak Rabin, the then prime minister of Israel, was: "This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism." (1)  Yitzhak Rabin was then later murdered by one of his fellow Israelis. (2)

Our guide through Bethlehem was a young Palestinian Christian named "Shukrit."  Recalling my scant Arabic from when I had visited Egypt in the past, I remembered that "shukran" meant "thank you" and asked him if his name and that phrase were related.  He said, "Yes, my name means 'thankful.' So I am always telling people that I am thankful!"

Christians tend to forget that the vast majority of Christians living in the Holy Land are not Jewish Christians (Messianic Jews).  They are Palestinians.  They are Arabs.  The United States' policy of aiding the Israeli government has led to the isolation of Christians in the Holy Land.  Once Bethlehem had a large population of Christians living there.  Now they are a scant minority, according to our guide, Shukrit.

We have turned a blind eye to the plight of our brothers and sisters living in squalor in the Holy Land.  While supporting the Israeli government, we do not question their motives in erecting this monstrosity of a wall to keep out terrorists.  Walls divide.  They do not unite.  They do not bring peace.

This video shows the true horrors of what is happening in Bethlehem.

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