Wednesday, December 19, 2007

O little town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem
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

More fear than hope nowadays.

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi John - I'm an occasional visitor here and enjoy your blog thoughts. I've also found myself in pretty controversial territory on this particular front because I question the uncritical position that many people take regarding political Israel.

God surely doesn't treat the un-Christlike actions of Israel any differently to the un-Christlike actions of any other state/person. So I suppose I might go a step further to say that I cannot support the actions of political Israel (the Christ-like response is to bless rather than persecute your enemies), while definitely calling for the descendants of Abraham to receive Jesus and the kingdom of God. Israel (like all of us) is called to speak up for the poor, broken and marginalised... indeed Isaiah, Jeremiah and lots of other Hebrew prophets seemed to suggest that that was the only way to seeing God's promises fulfilled.

Anyway, happy Christmas mate.


EilĂ­s said...

j-thanks for having the courage and self examination to be controversial. we would never get the chance to examine our own hearts and souls if we weren't presented with a different view than what we see from our wee country.

i love the film dead poets society when robin williams makes his students stand on their desks and take a different view of the things they see every day.

maybe it's time we did the same and viewed our lives through the lens of truth rather than culture.

keep challenging.

happy CHRISTmas.

Ralph said...

For me Israel is important only in the prophtic, and geographic sense.
Lets not forget it was them that put our Lord on the cross.
Having said that, Israel shows that a chosen nation can be blessed when obedient.
Unfortunatley evil exsists in ALL men's hearts.
There will be no mercy shown to the Jews, who reject Christ, and murder the innocent.
For me media is not trustworthy, the trouble's in this country at times were badly reported to global viewer's.
What faithful God we have that still keeps his promises to Israel, even though they do evil, in his sight.
The Jews are in for a shock, as they think the Law and their lineage saves them.
So for that matter are the Muslims.
Dress evil up in whatever outfit, be it communism, religeon, atheism.
When all is said and done it is still evil.
Contrast that with Christ and relationship with him, and all you can see is good.
Let's not get entangled with the mutations of evil but rather enjoy our good.

Rhea said...

Ralph, Israel didn't put Jesus on a cross anymore than you or I did. It was OUR sins that got Him crucified.

Ralph said...

Rhea i am well aware of that.
My point was it was the jews who said crucify him.
Zech Ch12,Ch 13 and also Rev Ch 1 v 7, explain that it was the Jews who pierced him.
By no means do I regard my sin any less vile than the jews, but there is a special significance for them in the future.

Osmund Bindalen said...

Dear John.
It is rather customary among young Christians to take a "controversial" position against "political Israel" in favour of "occupied and suffering Palestinians".

Remember that when we speak of occupation in a Palestinian context, there is legally speaking, no difference between the "Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories" and the "Zionist occupation of Palestine" which includes every square inch of Israel. The Jihadist struggle against the "occupation" aims at nothing less than destroying the Jewish state, and Christians are invited to take part.

In the real world, things are often quite complicated, and one easily falls prey to propaganda which is endemic, not only on the web, but even more so in mainstream media such as the BBC. Please take care so as not to become unknowingly a victim of vile Antisemitic propaganda, which you may not expect to hear from the BBC, but which is transmitted in various wrappings every day.

Here are a few weblinks which I hope may help to balance the impressions you have otherwise got. We should all feel pity for the suffering Palestinians, whether Christians or not, but preferably for the right reasons:

J-Mac said...

Thanks for your comment. I hope I didn't give the wrong impression in my post. I was just hurting for the friends I made in Bethlehem over christmas time.

Of course I support Israel and the Jewish people and I had an amazing time there this summer. I also felt the hurt from the suffering they have endured and from the threat they are still under.

It's just I saw things with my own eyes in Bethlehem that were simply wrong. It was not propoganda or media reports. I didn't come to this opinion easily and found myself arguing for Israel with everyone I met there, but you can't deny what you see with your own eyes.

The people in the West Bank and Gaza are human beings loved by God and they are suffering. This suffering of course has been caused by their own corrupt leaders and other Arab nations but also by Israel.

A father who loves his child would not be silent if his child was doing wrong. That is not love. In the same way it doesn't mean that I love Israel any less to state that some of the things they are doing is wrong.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment here.


Osmund Bindalen said...

Dear John.
Thanks for your clarification. I very much agree.


Anonymous said...

Here is a report on the BBC reporting from the conflict: