O Little Town of Bethlehem, what has become of thee?

O Little Town of Bethlehem, what has become of thee?

Graffiti on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem reads, “Merry Christmas from Bethlehem Ghetto.”

Millions of travelers (especially the misled Evangelical types) to that coveted and fought-over land of the prophets and the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, believe the hasbara: Jews Good, Palestinians Bad; Jews victims, Palestinians perpetrators; because of the Holocaust, the world owes us, and must condone what we’re doing to Palestinians; those who criticize our racist policies are outright anti-Semites; we are God’s Chosen, therefore we can do no wrong.

by Raouf Halaby, reposted from Counterpunch

O little town of Bethlehem,
How miserable  we see thee lie!
Above thy 28 ft. concrete separation wall of hatred,

Palestinians cower in fear and sleepless nights.
The silent stars are witness
to thy dark and somber streets

Where the light shineth not,
And the everlasting darkness of occupation
Hangs heavy on the oppressed and occupied.

Nazi-like Zionist hatred and violence of the past 71 years
Kill hope and instill fear in every Palestinian’s heart.
And nothing but arrests, theft, torture and killings
Are fears that meet thee every single minute
Of every single day, and every single night.

Some seven weeks back I attended a colloquium presentation delivered by a member of the religion faculty at the university where I taught for 42 years. Known for his scholarship and excellent teaching skills, the presenter was reporting on the results of a trip he undertook last summer to study innovative techniques on the teaching of biblical Hebrew. Prior to his trip to Occupied Palestine, I shared a CP column I’d written summarizing Ilan Pappé’s tome under the title The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (71 Years Later Zionist Terrorism Is Alive and Well, April 19, 2019, CP) and another scholarly article about Israel’s brutal violation of human rights, its theft and desecration of Christian monuments and churches, and its outright hatred and demonization of Palestinians in general, and Christian Palestinians in particular.

While during his eloquent presentation my former colleague made repeated references to Israel, at no time did he mention Palestine, Palestinians, occupation, wall of separation, Apartheid, Jews only highways (on which he traveled), midnight arrests, the destruction of entire Palestinian neighborhoods, the blight of Israeli-Jews-only settlements (subsidized by U.S. taxpayers) on the once-beautiful (now raped) Palestinian landscape that used to be accentuated with rolling hills and quaint valleys dotted with lush green olive groves, vineyards, and verdant fruit orchards that have given way to ugly manufactured homes and heavily armed enclaves inhabited by machinegun-toting, ultra-religious fanatics who gun down Palestinians just for the fun of it, blow up their homes, and cut down hundred-year old olive trees.

A Palestinian protester dressed in a Santa Claus costume rings a bell in front of tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration against the settlements and demanding for free movement for the Palestinians during Christmas near a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 23, 2014.
A Palestinian protester dressed in a Santa Claus costume rings a bell in front of tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration against the settlements and demanding for free movement for the Palestinians during Christmas near a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 23, 2014. (REUTERS/ Mussa Qawasma )

And, while these criminals release their pent up hatred in orgies of  stone-throwing, vandalism, and assassinations prescribed by their rabbis in demented expiatory religious and nationalistic rituals akin to ISIL’s orgies of killings, the Israel Defense Forces, “the most humane army in the world,” stand by ready to protect, support and cheer the marauders. The spectacle always ends in the same manner: the settlers are absolved of their crimes, and the Palestinians are arrested for threatening Israel’s security.

I fear that my former colleague, like millions of travelers (especially the ignorant Evangelical types) to that coveted and fought-over land of the prophets and the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, drank the cool aide reeled out by Israel’s ministry of hasbara, the world’s foremost Orwellian organ of manufactured facts whose central theme is: Jews Good, Palestinians Bad; Jews victims, Palestinians perpetrators; because of the Holocaust, the world owes us, and must condone what we’re doing to Palestinians; those who criticize our racist policies are outright anti-Semites; we are God’s Chosen (and that includes Trump), therefore we can do no wrong.

Never mind that the Palestinians are also Semites and can also trace their lineage to Abraham; and, because Palestinians are treated  as children of a lesser God, they are personae non gratae and fair game in the chess game played by Israel and her subordinate pimps in the U.S. and Europe.

During the Q & A session following  his presentation,  my colleague stated that  – of all the holy sites he visited – his visit to Bethlehem was the most disappointing – and only because (somehow)  the much celebrated Little Town of Bethlehem lacked the religious/spiritual reverence/charm with which it has been traditionally associated. I fear that because much of today’s biblical narratives are a concocted mish mash that evolved over centuries in different climes,  each succeeding culture augmented its own storyline by interlacing pagan  practices with Christian ones.

A manger scene juxtaposed against concrete blocks seemingly pierced by a mortar shell: with Christmas looming, Banksy reveals his latest art piece.
A manger scene juxtaposed against concrete blocks seemingly pierced by a mortar shell: with Christmas looming, Banksy reveals his latest art piece. (www.alaraby.co.uk)

Hence the blending of the original corpus into myriad European Christmas stories and traditions that resulted in written narratives, rich musical and dramatic performances,  and dazzling canvases. With the advent of film and the television,  America’s 20th century contribution added an abundance of splendor and pageantry.

And thus it was that in late 18th and 19th century Europe exploiting this celebration of the birth of The Prince of Peace became a motive to ching ching the occasion in what has become for this generation Black Friday and Black Saturday spending bacchanalia to celebrate the billions of dollars going into the pockets of the rich and greedy while giving the rest of us the satisfaction of obtaining made-in-China consumer goods.

And somehow the meaning of Christmas drifts into the calendar.

On Sunday, December 23, 2019, the Beirut, Lebanon-based The Daily Star, reported the following:

BETHLEHEM, Palestine: With Christmas looming, Banksy’s latest Bethlehem offering appeared Saturday in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: A manger scene juxtaposed with a miniature version of Israel’s separation barrier, seemingly pierced by a mortar shell. Dubbed the “Scar of Bethlehem,” the work shows the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph backlit through damaged concrete, chiseled pockmarks exploding out from a gaping hole in four directions, approximating the Christmas Star.

The work is installed at Banksy’s Walled-Off Hotel, where all rooms overlook a section of the concrete barrier Israel built to cut off the occupied West Bank from Israeli territory.

“Love” and “peace” are tagged in English and French, respectively, on the installation’s concrete blocks, while three large wrapped presents are at the forefront of the scene.

“It is a nativity,” hotel manager Wissam Salsaa told AFP after the piece was installed. “Banksy has his own contribution to Christmas.”

“It is a great way to bring up the story of Bethlehem,” he continued, “the Christmas story, in a different way – to make people think more” of how Palestinians live in Bethlehem.

Salsaa calls the Israeli wall a “scar” that should induce “shame in anyone who supported” its construction.

The manger scene and hotel, which opened two years ago, are far from Banksy’s only West Bank imprint. In 2007, he painted a number of artworks in Bethlehem, including a young girl frisking an Israeli soldier pinned up against a wall.

In 2005, he sprayed nine stenciled images at different locations along the 8-meter-high separation barrier. They included a ladder on the wall, a little girl carried away by balloons and a window opening onto a peaceful mountain landscape.

“Banksy is trying to be a voice for those that cannot speak,” Salsaa said. He “is creating a new model of resistance  through art.”

The biblical narrative informs us that at the time of Christ’s birth Palestine was an extension of Augustus’ massive empire. Palestina/Falasteen was sandwiched between Egypt and Syria; the first served as Rome’s breadbasket, and the second as Rome’s eastern line of defense and the last stop of the ancient Silk Road and one of the conduits that fed the insatiable Roman treasury to maintain its stranglehold on its expansive Pax Romana Empire. Ironic it is that American, British, and European hegemonic interest in that same region are no different from Rome’s. And since 1917, the Brits, French, and later the Americans have been drawing and redrawing the boundaries of the oil-rich Near East; and “What we say, goes” is the new Anglo-Franco-Americana Pax Oleum Petra.

Utilizing the Jewish King Herod as a friendly client and puppet, the Romans gave him a free hand. And as long as he collected taxes to help enrich Rome’s coffers, Herod’s heavy handed rule was viewed benignly by Rome. Perceiving the birth of the promised Messiah/King as a threat to his rule, Herod  ordered the killing of all male infants in Bethlehem and environs.

One of six images painted by British street artist Banksy as part of a Christmas exhibition in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 2, 2007.
One of six images painted by British street artist Banksy as part of a Christmas exhibition in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 2, 2007.

It is fair to say that if one compared living conditions in Palestine and the occupied West Bank and Gaza during the time of Jesus’ birth to current living conditions of Palestinians all across the Holy Land, one would be shocked at the shrieking and howling of anguished cries of a nation robbed of its birthright, dignity and freedom.

Back to the Q & A session. In an agonizingly hushed, if not slightly quivering voice, I intoned the following comment to my colleague who, to use the metaphor, could not see the forest for the trees: “Is it possible that because you had to go through the monstrous fortress-like concrete wall to enter Bethlehem  a negative tone was set for you?”  I followed with the following plea: “I am saddened that you didn’t even mention Palestine or Palestinians – at all. Please do not relegate the Palestinians into the trash bin of anonymity.”  My former colleague magnanimously owned up to having made no mention of Palestine/Palestinians. I so wish he’d admitted that he, like most Evangelicals, was guilty of committing the sin of denial, denial that Israelis and Evangelicals are complicit in this heinous crime of denial.

All of this is to say the following: the Jewish King Herod had no qualms about butchering all infant males in the land where the lamenting and screaming of prophets and innocents are today’s   wailing and crying of 8 million  anguished Edward Munchian Palestinian “Screamers.”

Modern day Herods such Zionist Netanyahu and all his ilk share the same killing and maiming instincts of hatred and brutality as their Hitler and Mussolini prototypes. Deeply embedded in their psyches is a disregard for human life.  In a November 2019 aerial assault on besieged Gaza and to rally support for his reelection bid at the prime ministry, Netanyahu bragged about the  three-day killing spree of 37 Gaza civilians that included 13 members of a single family,  four children under the age 4, and two expectant mothers whose fetuses never took their first breath. And where are the anti-abortion Christians, Catholics and Evangelicals – alike?  Like their 17th and 18th century European counterparts, those masters who produced thousands of canvases to memorialize Herod’s Killing of the Innocents, Palestinian artists have produced tens of thousands of art works depicting Israel’s 71 years of endless brutalities. Yet, while the former artists’ compositions grace museum walls across the world, rarely does one see a work depicting Israeli carnage.

Israel’s daily war on Palestinians, and especially  on Palestinian  children, is rarely transmitted to an increasingly apathetic world and, if one were to even hint at it, one is immediately charged with the spurious anti-Semitic assault, including, most recently,  prosecution.

To state that Israel is guilty as charged is to state the truth, no matter how inconvenient that truth may be.

A Palestinian protester wearing a Santa Claus costume is carried by medics after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes at Bethlehem checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.
A Palestinian protester wearing a Santa Claus costume is carried by medics after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes at Bethlehem checkpoint in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. ((AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed))

This Christmas, like all the Christmas of the last 71 years, Christian Palestinians are denied access to their holy shrines. Allison Weir’s online blog (If Americans Knew) recently stated that Palestinians are “under siege … [as] Israel announces it will not allow Gaza’s Christians to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas.”  (12/19/2019). [Editor’s note: Israel “reversed” the decision, “pending clearance,” but permitted just 55 Gazans to cross the border.]

Furthermore, the lucky few Christian Palestinians [from the West Bank or East Jerusalem] who are given permission to visit the holy shrines have to go through excruciating hours on end of successive check points during which they are strip searched, insulted, and humiliated. Lucky is the Palestinian child whose Christmas gift is not stolen by Israeli soldiers; the theft, of course, is always a matter of  Israeli  national security.

Ironic it is that while the Christian Palestinians, who can trace their ancestry to the early Christian church, are denied access to their places of worship, hundreds of thousands of foreign pilgrims are given the royal treatment as they are led around, much like obedient sheep, by Israeli tour guides who indulge in Zionist hasbara while diluting actual historical facts about the role played by Christian and Muslim Palestinians in preserving, maintaining, and protecting the Holy sites that continue to be desecrated by Israel. These modern day Crusaders are no different from their barbarian European counterparts.

On 12/5/2019 Allison Weir reported that “It feels like Palestinians are constantly dying … 43 in November. 526 since Trump’s Jerusalem announcement … 111 of them children … 22 women, 6 Palestinians with special needs … [and] 13 prisoners … killed in Israeli jails … ‘Where in the world is the world?’   asked one Palestinian   whose family was blown to pieces and whose house was demolished.”

Much as Herod hated infants, Zionists hate Palestinian children. Palestinian schools are destroyed; their schools’ playground equipment is either stolen or destroyed;   tear gas and firebombs are lobbed into their schools and homes; children as young as 4 years old have been arrested, detained and held (sans parental visitation) for days at a time. And finally, as proof of Israel’s inhumanity and brazen disregard for common decency, Allison Weir reports that  “Right now, many Palestinian children from Gaza lie in West Bank hospitals, facing painful [prolonged cancer] treatment or surgery. One in five are there without a mother or father [emphasis hers] because Israel denied both parents’ permission to travel with the sick child.” (12/182019).

Oh how Goya-esque Zionism and its proponents have gotten to be? Dear Kafka, had you lived to see raw Zionist brutality, you would have been shamefully mortified and embarrassed of your tribe’s barbaric behavior. You would have also shamed the Netanyahus, Trumps, Salmans, Modis, Johnsons, Asads, Putins, Balsonaroses, Sissis and Aung Suus of this world. You would have no doubt decried the fact that instead of Wise Men and Women heading to Bethlehem carrying precious gifts, the world is led by self-centered, racist, and woefully flawed characters better known as Modern Day Merchants of Death wreaking havoc in all the hamlets and Beit Lahems of our modern world.

***

In spite of all the human misery brought about due to Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fanaticism, the story of the birth of the Christ King is a story of the triumph of love over hatred, hope over despair, giving instead of receiving, humility over pride,  inclusivity over exclusion, kindness to the stranger instead of incarcerating him, choosing life over death, choosing peace over war, feeding the needy instead of taking away his sparse meal, sheltering the homeless instead of housing him in  mangy cardboard boxes, and, like the Good Samaritan, healing the sick, wounded, and the down and out across the globe.

Here is wishing everyone a Joyous and Merry Christmas Day.

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