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Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem

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23 December 2023, Canberra Times, by Reem Borrows

For decades, Christmas has not been a straightforward celebration for Palestinian Christians. But this year it is impossible to celebrate.

One of my fondest memories growing up is driving from Haifa to Bethlehem, and along the timeless streets of Jerusalem but even then, it was impossible to ignore the bitter reality of checkpoints in and out of occupied Bethlehem, bringing sadness to an otherwise profound experience.

I never forgot how proud we were and still are of what it means to be a Palestinian, that sense of sharing of the land, of knowing that Adeeb Joudeh, a Muslim Palestinian, was entrusted with the guardianship of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, holding the keys to the church in trust as generations of his ancestors had.

This year, Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem. How could Palestinian Christians – the descendants of the first Christians in the world, indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land – express any form of joy or festivity while enduring a violent campaign to uproot them from their land?

The ongoing atrocities against innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza, Muslim and Christian, the destruction of holy sites including the bombing of the church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza, and the daily violence by the Israeli state and its settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, have taken their toll on an ever-shrinking Palestinian Christian population, abandoned by the Western world even as it loudly proclaims Judeo-Christian values, and forced to choose between living life under Israeli occupation or exile.

Jesus Christ, who was born in Palestine and who stood up for all those who could not stand up for themselves, would find no reason to celebrate this year.

Whatever happened to the universal ideals of human rights, morality, and justice that we, who live in the West, have promoted as a way of life?

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the destruction in Gaza expose the selective blindness of the Western world and raise critical questions about the consistency of human rights principles and the values we truly possess.

The international community’s response, or lack of it, to the plight of the Palestinians, highlights the glaring exceptions to these supposedly universal laws.

It is disheartening to witness world leaders standing, for a long time, against an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Imagine Jesus witnessing these atrocities; his response would be an unequivocal rejection of the ongoing onslaught on Gaza.

As the global Christian community celebrates Christmas, it’s essential to acknowledge that Jesus would not remain silent about the unfolding atrocities in the Holy Land.

Reflecting on Jesus’ teachings, as Palestinian Christians we know he would advocate freedom for all, rejecting the notion that one group’s freedom should come at the expense of another’s.

His commitment to justice would rise above political games, challenging the status quo and inspiring peaceful civil unrest for a permanent and immediate ceasefire.

The celebration of Christmas, then, should this year and every year henceforth become a solemn reflection on Jesus’ principles – opposing oppression, greed and lies, and standing for peace and justice on equal terms.

Imagine being denied these basic human rights in this day and age. This year, for Palestinian Christians, there will be no Christmas tree or celebrations. Instead, they will be in deep prayer, demanding a permanent and immediate ceasefire as a first step.

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Article source: Canberra Times/Reem Borrows 23.12.2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000