O little town of BethlehemMore fear than hope nowadays.
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
The Christmas readings and carols seem very different to me this year after my summer trip. I spent two weeks in Bethlehem (Palestine) just a 5 minute walk from the place they believe that Jesus was born.
Gone is my vision of a tranquil little village encircled by angels with fluffy sheep in fields around it. Now when I read of Bethlehem I think of a place where I have seen more pain, injustice, oppression and lack of freedom and hope than anywhere else I have been.
It's people are poor and carry the bitterness of a lifetime of imprisonment, hopelessness and the death of loved ones. The refugee camps are overcrowded and lack the basic human provisions of food, water, electricity. In the distance they can see beautiful settlements protected by high walls, where the mansions of their occupiers are built on the ruins of their simple homes.
I find it very difficult even now to write of these things. People have told me that I was just trying to be controversial when I wrote about my experiences in Israel and Palestine previously. I have examined myself and what I wrote and feel that I was trying to write honestly about my experience. But I have trouble:
1. Trying to relate my amazing experience in beautiful Israel (and the stories I heard there) with what I saw with my own eyes in Palestine.
2. Trying to write honestly about the situation when I know that the majority of people reading have been brought up to support the nation of Israel (as I was). Therefore what I write will seem controversial.
3. Trying to reconcile my love for Israel and the Jews (both biblical and modern-day) with the brutal occupation that their government and their IDF are currently enforcing in Palestine. Just check out the world section on the BBC site for almost daily stories of death and destruction.
Check out a brilliant article in National Geographic here which mirrors my own experiences in Bethlehem. It is also an excellent historical account of Bethlehem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It's easy to think of Bethlehem as the center of the world," says Mayor Batarseh. "This can't be a place where calm never exists. If the world is ever going to have peace, it has to start right here."
Also check out the Bethlehem Christmas Project which is a team of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians who are delivering gifts to children in Bethlehem.
Pray for the Christians living in Palestine. Imprisoned behind a huge wall and forgotten by the evangelical community around the world. Living where the Hope of the world was born and yet living without hope.