Wishing Merry Christmas to my Christian friends

Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem

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:

Indians in Israel on a Xmas walk from Jerusalem 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. 🙂

Santa in Jerusalem

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.

Santa Claus in Manger Square, Christmas 2014

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:

The little town of Bethlehem is jammed with a big-city problem.

Traffic snarls streets everywhere, including around the church marking the spot where Jesus was born. And now, with Christmas upon it, Bethlehem is considering a dramatic solution to the problem – digging a tunnel under Manger Square.

The modern, densely populated town of 28,000 is a dizzying maze of small streets that practically guarantee traffic jams.

“Bethlehem is going through a crisis,” says Anton Salman, a city councillor. “We think that the solution to this traffic is to build an underground passage between the two sides of the square.”

Bethlehem’s municipality now hopes eventually to build several tunnels around the Palestinian city, where the urban development problems are myriad.

Bethlehem is sandwiched on three sides by other towns. From the north and southeast, it is hemmed in by Israel’s separation barrier and Jewish settlements. It is also a main transit point for drivers between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, compounding its congestion.

The area around the Nativity Church, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, is particularly busy, with tourists swarming the area and cars squeezing through Manger Square.  Streets all around face a constant backlog because of traffic in the square.

The plan proposes a 260ft-tunnel passing under a narrow two-lane street that crosses Manger Square in front of the Nativity Church. The project would take about two years to complete and would cost £2.5m to £3.2m, with the Palestinian Authority pledging to foot the bill. If the plan is approved, construction could start in autumn next year.

Building these tunnels however are going to be a lot harder than Hamas’s efforts in Gaza. They have to contend with three different Church denominations!

The municipality would need to get a stamp of approval from the UN’s cultural agency Unesco, which has listed the Nativity Church as a World Heritage site and would want to ensure its protection. Junaid Sorosh-Wali, an official at Unesco’s Ramallah office, said the agency would study the plan once approached by Palestinian officials.

Also, because the tunnel would pass near church grounds, church officials from each of the three denominations that administer the site would need to be involved. Officials at the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches did not return messages requesting comment.

They probably didn’t reply because they were busy defusing a brawl amongst the Scouts who were fighting amongst themselves, as the Jerusalem Post reports:

After the patriarch made his way into the Church of the Nativity, a brawl broke out among scout troops. Chairs and drums were thrown, and drummers hit at each other with drumsticks.

The Palestinian police waded into the fight with batons, and the crowd sighed.

“What a shame,” said one man.

But another disagreed. “It’s a Christmas tradition. Every year they fight, for nothing, about nothing.”

To us outsiders it sounds highly amusing but I presume that for Christians this in-fighting is rather sad.

I will conclude this post with Prime Minister’s wishes to the Christians world for Christmas:

“I wish Christians in Israel and all over the world a very Merry Christmas,” Netanyahu said in the YouTube video.

“Christmas is a special opportunity to spend time with loved ones and to celebrate this most festive of holidays,” he added.

He called on the world’s Christian communities to remember those who are less fortunate, the Christianss suffering from persecution across the Middle East.

Netanyahu said that Israel was the one exception in the Middle East where Christians live without fear, violence or persecution.

“From Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and the city of peace I join Christians everywhere, especially those in the Middle East, in a common prayer for a more peaceful and tolerant world.”

I answer a fervent Amen to the PM’s prayers and wish Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!

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6 Responses to Wishing Merry Christmas to my Christian friends

  1. Elise Ronan says:

    To be fair to the Latin Patriarch, if he chastised Abbas he would end up in prison or worse. So of course he made it all Israel’s fault. That is also not to say that he doesn’t agree with every word he said too.

    • anneinpt says:

      Yes, you make a good point, but that only clarifies the problem: the Palestinians, especially Christians, cannot publicly criticise Abbas or they’ll end up in prison or dead. So Israel is a convenient whipping boy. But why should Israel be expected to tolerate this unfair situation? Until the Palestinians accept Israel as a permanent nation in the Middle East there will never be real peace, and barely coexistence.

      What is worse is that the international media laps up this propaganda.

  2. Reality says:

    Amen to Netanyahu.But why whenever anything with Israel is discussed does the plight of Gaza arise?It’s not Israels problem to rebuild it.That belongs to Hamas,Abbas and the UN

  3. Debby says:

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Anne! And my prayers for a healthy and safe 2015!

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