I would like to wish all my Christian readers and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May 2015 be a year of peace, happiness and prosperity for all of us.
Unlike last year, this year I got the bad news out of the way before Christmas (although there’s sadly a never-ending supply of news items). Now I shall concentrate on good news only.
Real JStreets at Israellycool has two cute posts about Christmas in Israel. In the first, she reports on the warming relations between Israel and India:
Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted Hanukkah greetings in Hebrew and English and received a friendly response from the PM of Israel. And now there are serious rumors that India will start thinking about voting at the UN and not auto-like “Palestine” on all votes.
To help holiday celebrants, the Israeli tourism Ministry has announced it will provide free 24-hour shuttle transport between Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.
Australian ultra-marathon runner Pat Farmer did a “Peace Run” with the last lap from Bethlehem to Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate. Farmer knows how short a distance it really is, he did not have to sit in traffic like the rest of us.
Real JStreets also tells us about the Indians in Israel walk to Bethlehem:
Recently, 1500 Indians working in Israel, also walked the route. They gathered at Jaffa Gate, next to the Walls of the Old City, and on a sunny Saturday afternoon set out for the church in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem, no matter how far ‘West Bank’ sounds, compared to distances in India, can be just a pleasant walk away.
Her second post is simply a funny photo of a Santa mannequin sitting in the Old City of Jerusalem having his picture taken – in an “only-in-Israel” moment – with religious Jewish families. 🙂
As an aside I would recommend to my readers to follow Real JStreets. With her camera – but without photoshopping or “fauxtography”, she regularly exposes the lies about apartheid Israel.
This year’s official Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem had far fewer visitors than in previous years. Nevertheless there were still several thousand pilgrims who flocked to Manger Square for the celebrations:
Several thousand Christian pilgrims on Wednesday flocked to the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus, lifting spirits after a year of conflict and failed peace efforts.
The central Manger Square was decked out in white and yellow lights and a towering Christmas tree. On a cool, clear night, there was a carnival atmosphere: Vendors hawked corn, candied apples, watches, and balloons in the shape of cartoon characters.
Scout troops played bagpipes, horns and drums, and bands from around the world performed on a stage, singing Christmas carols and original Christmas rock ballads, mostly in English. A recording of “Feliz Navidad” blasted through the speakers, too. A Palestinian host welcomed members of Gaza’s tiny Christian community, who were permitted to cross through Israel to the West Bank, eliciting whistles and applause.
“My son and I and my husband came for Christmas to see, you know, be right here where it all took place,” said Irene Adkins, 63, from Lorain, Ohio, as she sat in a Bethlehem visitor’s center. “It feels wonderful.”
Police and local officials said just 4,500 international tourists visited Bethlehem this year, less than half last year’s number. By nightfall, perhaps 2,000 people remained in the square, most of them local Palestinians.
Fadi Kattan, a Palestinian tourism expert, blamed the downturn on the summer war in Gaza.
“Image, image, image,” Kattan said. “We’re looking at the attack in Gaza affecting the image of this (place) as a destination.”
A wave of unrest in Jerusalem, just a few miles away from Bethlehem, also has deterred visitors.
In his homily at Midnight Mass, [Latin Patriarch Fouad] Twal called for Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land to “live together as equals with mutual respect,” according to a translation released by his office. “But in fact, this Holy Land has become a land of conflict.”
He lamented the Gaza war and recent unrest in Jerusalem, which included a deadly Palestinian attack on a synagogue. “The whirlwind of death continues to strike and to crush!” he said.
Twal appealed for reconstruction of war-torn Gaza, which has been delayed, to proceed. He also urged Israel to halt plans to extend its security barrier in the Bethlehem area that would separate dozens of Christian Palestinian families from their lands.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Muslim, joined the celebrations on Wednesday evening and called for an end to “extremism and terror.” Abbas is locked in a power struggle with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which remains in control of the Gaza Strip even after agreeing to the formation of a unity government with Abbas early this year.
Israel’s plans to extend the security barrier are intricately intertwined with Abbas’ power struggle with Hamas, so it would be better for Patriarch Twal to have a word with Abbas rather than plead with Israel. Added to that, Abbas’ call for an end to “extremism and terror” would be laudable were it not so cynical – the extremism and violence emanate from one direction only – his own.
Oops, sorry about the bad-news digression.
An article in the Independent, which might have been intended as a dig at Israel, unwittingly provides us with good news about Bethlehem: It is snarled with traffic! The good new is that this puts the lie to the claims about Israel blocking or walling the city off from the rest of the Palestinian territories, and that Bethlehem is not the desolate ghost town that propagandists would have us believe: