This is just to let you know that I was contacted this morning by Mark Sandell to discuss the situation in Bethlehem on air on a program called "World Have Your Say" at 18:00 GMT. You can listen to the program if you have the BBC or at the LINK.
Prayers for all those in Palestine celebrating Christmas, the birthplace of Jesus, that there may be justice and peace for ALL who live there, Christians and Muslims alike.
UPDATE: I just got off the phone with the BBC. The interview was regarding an article in the Times claiming Christians are fleeing Palestine due to extremism and that blaming Israel is not true. ( I wasn't exactly told this, I was told the topic would be Bethlehem specifically)
The fist speaker was a reporter talking from Manger Square where supposedly thousands of people were supposed to be gathered. She stated there were NOT thousands of people, only a few hundred, mostly locals.
The second guest was a pro-Israeli blogger who brought up the Catholic Church being attacked in Gaza-and the book store owner being killed there. She did NOT say it was in Gaza, she just gave it as general information. She then loosely stated that there are NUMEROUS reports of attacks on Christians in the West Bank. The moderator stepped in and said, "Where, give me facts, where are you hearing these reports, because all you have to do is talk to Christians IN Palestine and they will tell you they fear Israel MUCH more than Muslim extremists"
Then he went to me. I pointed out that the church she was referring to was in Gaza and it occurred during the conflict between Hamas and Fateh and that Hamas has made it clear that they will not stand for this extremism, and that arrests had been made.
I stated clearly that Christian clergy have been denied their multiple entry visas and are afraid to leave because it may take up to a year to get back in IF then. Also that other Christian aid workers have been denied visas so when Christians there cannot live their lives normally with clergy being safe to travel, and that Christian aid workers are not allowed in to work due to ISRAEL'S ILLEGAL 40 YEAR LONG OCCUPATION and it's POLICIES which have only gotten worse,then of course, the tendency to leave is strong. I also pointed out that Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike in the diaspora are NOT allowed to travel freely to Palestine.
The next guest was the head of the YMCA in Bethlehem who stated CLEARLY that Palestinian Christians fear ISRAEL. He also rebutted several things the other speaker had said, reiterating
stolen land, road blocks, and stated firmly, "I am Christian, I am Palestinian and I am telling you the way it IS.
Then there were a few emails read and an Israeli fellow stated Christians are free to worship however they want. (needless to say he did NOT say that prostelyzing is against the law in Israel and that is NOT to say I am for prostelyzing, it is just a fact. He also certainly did not give ANY of the prejudicial laws against Israeli Arabs, Muslim OR CHRISTIAN)
Then they came on the phone and said thank you, they were receiving calls from around the world. I had MUCH more I would have said if given the time. Such as rebutting with the below article (Thank you Desert Peace) (and as the moderator stated, you want to know the TRUTH, then go speak to Palestinian Christians)
Extremism exists DUE to unmitigated oppression. When there is a vacuum which hope and PROGRESS does not fill, other forces fill it. And NO, I am not condoning extremism, I decry ALL violence by ALL parties.
MIDEAST: In Gaza, Santa Is Insolvent
By Mohammed Omer
GAZA CITY, Dec 24 (IPS) - "Santa Claus is empty handed this year…insolvent," says Father Manuel Musallam, head of the Holy Family School in Gaza City.
"All forms of celebration are absent," he says, raising his empty palms skywards. "We Christians and Muslims all live in fear and instability. The Israeli tanks, bulldozers and warplanes have laid siege on us all."
His school, which has both Muslim and Christian students, likes to celebrate including all; this year few celebrations were planned, for fewer children.
The Sunday school headmaster of the Greek Orthodox Church, Jaber al-Jilda, echoes his Catholic colleague's sentiments. "This year's celebrations are mainly religious," he says. "We want to celebrate, but our hearts are full of pain and grief. We cannot celebrate and at the same time watch as the funeral of another killed by Israeli occupation passes in front of our church."
On Friday the building where he teaches is a mosque. On Sunday, it is a church.
"I don't feel like celebrating Christmas," says 16-year-old Merkiana Tarazi. "Without safety and peace, even if I wear new clothes, I won't be happy."
Like many in Gaza who have family members in Israel, Jordan or the West Bank, Merkiana is cut off from much of her family. Her elder sister attending Beir Ziet University in the West Bank cannot come home for Christmas "because of the Israeli siege."
In the past, even under occupation, Gaza's Christian community celebrated Christmas, though without the commercialism and grandeur of the West. Before the second Palestinian uprising, the Intifadah, began in 2000, Christians and Muslims would gather at Gaza's main square on Christmas Day. A giant Christmas tree was set up in the square, and a Santa Claus handed out gifts to people on the street. Today, the municipality cannot afford a tree.
"We used to offer chocolate to our children at the school," Father Musallam said. "But now because of the Israeli siege, no chocolate is available."
The Christmas decorations are gone, too. "Paper and drawing materials are scare. And if we happen to find supplies in the market, we cannot afford them. Even clothes or just the basic ingredients needed to make a Christmas cake are not available here."
But the conditions have still not killed spirits; in place of chocolate, Father Manuel's school arranged strawberries. Strawberries grown in Gaza were one of the products destined for Europe this year, but Israel stopped the export. That made them some hope at Christmas.
Jilda too has found his own substitutes. For Christmas gifts he is offering religious books instead of chocolates, dresses and more traditional gifts.
Christmas comes this year amidst stories that continue to surface in Western media accusing the Hamas government or Muslims in general of persecuting Christians in Gaza or Palestine. Not many Christians in Gaza say that.
"Hamas has never done that," Jilda says emphatically. "They send representatives from Hamas to our celebrations. Last year, as the year before, they came and offered Christmas greetings at our Church to the entire congregation."
In the absence of much else, the Christian leaders offer words of hope.
"Christmas is about forgiveness and peace," says Father Musallam. "It begins with a child. If we each plant a tree of happiness in our children's hearts, the fruit produced will be peace. I send my love and respect to the world at a time when our people live in hope, and in despair." (END/2007) (source)
And last but not least, since the topic on the radio was told to me prior to the call was Bethlehem (that the picture is that all is well there and since I and other bloggers as well as other media state differently), here is a cartoon published in the LA Times. This cartoon is not complete as published, I received this email a few hours ago.
All is NOT well in Bethlehem OR in Gaza and until that APARTHEID wall stealing PALESTINIAN land and the check points preventing movement are removed and the occupation is OVER, NOTHING can be well. Until the siege of Gaza is OVER, NOTHING has a chance of being "well" . Palestinians are living lives in the OT that JESUS CHRIST himself, whose birth date we are celebrating would deplore with his every last breath.
Video: "Christmas: A Palestinian Story" This video was posted by Open Bethlehem, link HERE and be SURE to download their presentations.