The “little town of Bethlehem” that we sing about at this time of year is far different from what many of us imagine it to be.
by Kathryn Shihadah
On December 3rd, amid joyous celebration, the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony took place in Manger Square in Bethlehem, Palestine. In just a few more days, Bethlehem will commemorate the day of Jesus’ birth right in the very town where it happened. It is a holy, magical time of year for residents and visitors.
We may picture a sleepy, picturesque town surrounded by hills, dotted with sheep, but the reality in the city of Bethlehem and its environs (the Bethlehem Governate) is much different.
Let’s see what has been happening in the days since the Christmas tree lit up the night. Anyone with a heart for humanity, Christian or not, can take a few moments to focus on this historic and troubled town.
(Please see this short video: O Little Town of Bethlehem, Palestine)
(Each of the following incidents took place in the city of Bethlehem or the Bethlehem Governate.)
On Thursday December 15, illegal Israeli settlers assaulted a 70-year-old Palestinian man in the village of Artas, 2.5 miles outside the city of Bethlehem.
Two-thirds of the land belonging to the village of Artas is under complete Israeli control, and a large swath has been confiscated for use by the illegal Israeli settlement of Efrat.
(Settlers have been causing property damage, harassing, injuring, and even killing Palestinians with impunity for years, but in 2022 the settlers have been particularly aggressive. Israeli soldiers often support the settlers in their attacks. Israeli settlements or colonies in the West Bank are illegal under international law, and constitute war crimes.)
On Wednesday December 14, Israeli soldiers invaded the village of Husan near Bethlehem.
They brought bulldozers and other vehicles, and demolished an agricultural structure built by a local Palestinian farmer on his own private land.
According to the Israeli army, the structure had been built without a permit from Israeli authorities, and was therefore illegal.
(Israel denies over 98% of building permits requested by Palestinians). Israel has demolished around 200 Palestinian homes and other structures in 2022, displacing 821 Palestinians (161 women, 373 children.)
Like Arta, two-thirds of Husan is classified under full Israeli control.
On Tuesday dawn December 13, Israeli soldiers invaded the town of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem and the Deheishe refugee camp located inside Bethlehem. They then searched and ransacked many Palestinian homes and abducted six Palestinians.
(Deheishe refugee camp was established by the United Nations in 1949 to house Palestinians from 45 villages who had been displaced by the war of ethnic cleansing that had initiated the state of Israel. According to international law, these refugees should have been allowed to return home, but after over 70 years, they remain displaced.)
On Monday December 12, Israeli soldiers invaded the town of Tuqu near Bethlehem and demolished a tent used by a Palestinian farmer to sell saplings, plants, and farming tools. They confiscated some of his supplies as well.
98.5% of the village’s land is classified under full Israeli control; one quarter of that is allocated as nature reserves.
The illegal Israeli settlement of Tekoa is built on land that was confiscated from Palestinian residents of Tuqu.
On Friday December 9, Israeli soldiers invaded the town of Al-Khader near Bethlehem, which caused local Palestinians to protest. The soldiers suppressed them with rubber-coated steel bullets, gas bombs, and concussion grenades. A number of Palestinians were injured; others were overcome by tear gas.
85% of Al-Khader ‘s land is classified under full Israeli control.
The wall that Israel constructed around the West Bank separated many residents of Al-Khader from their farmland.
On Tuesday December 6, Israeli soldiers invaded the Palestinian town of Nahalin near Bethlehem with bulldozers. They demolished agricultural structures belonging to a local farmer, claiming they were built without a permit.
91% of Nahalin’s land is under full Israeli military control, and includes 3 illegal Israeli settlements.
On Monday dawn December 5, the Israeli military raided the Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem, where they killed a young Palestinian man, abducted three young men, including his brother, and injured at least six.
They also entered and ransacked many homes.
Local Palestinians, realizing they were being raided, protested against the Israeli presence. According to IMEMC, Israeli soldiers then “fired dozens of live rounds, rubber-coated steel bullets, gas bombs, and concussion grenades.”
Omar Yousef Manna’ Fararja was killed by live rounds in the chest.
Although only 22 years old, Fararja had been a political prisoner of Israel multiple times, and was held under administrative detention without charges or trial.
Fararja’s brother Yazan was among the Palestinians abducted in the same incident.
These are just some of the tragic – and unnecessary – events in and around Bethlehem in recent days.
In fact, Israel brings violence and destruction not just at Christmas but all year round, and not just to Bethlehem but to every city, town, and village where Palestinians live.
A mother has lost her son; farmers have lost the tools of their trade; families are reminded of the precariousness of their existence – and how little the world seems to care.
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” does not seem to apply to Palestinians.
May we find it in our hearts to do better in 2023.
For ongoing daily news about Bethlehem go here.
Note: the entire West Bank has been under Israeli occupation since 1967; all its official entrances and exits are controlled by Israeli soldiers, making its Palestinian inhabitants virtual prisoners. Many are families that were ethnically cleansed from what is now named Israel during Israel’s founding war (see this and this and this). Israeli forces invade West Bank towns and villages daily. Thanks to the pro-Israel lobby in the US, Congress disburses over $20 million per day of Americans’ tax money directly to or on behalf of Israel.
Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs occasionally at Palestine Home.
FURTHER READING ON ISRAEL AND PALESTINE:
- What Israel is doing against Bethlehem today… (2021)
- O Little Town of Bethlehem, what has become of thee? (2019)
- Merry Christmas, Israel is building 2,191 new settlement housing units on Palestinian land (2018)
- Christmas headlines from the Occupied Palestinian territories (2018)
- Christmas in Bethlehem: ’tis the season for hasbara (tourism in Bethlehem)
- Human rights reports on Israel-Palestine (regularly updated)
- Israeli military, settlers are breaking records in violence toward Palestinians
- Israel and the threat of the Palestinian womb
- From a Palestinian grandmother about what’s happening to her grandson