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Today, Jesus would be born at a checkpoint

Preparations for Christmas in Palestine, as elsewhere, begin in Advent, December 2-24, most elaborately in Bethlehem, see photos. The Rev. Mitri Raheb on ‘cheap peace’ 1st plus 2 reports from Ma’an.

Palestinian  altar boys of the Greek Orthodox church take part in a procession before mass at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem on the second Sunday of Advent. The church is on the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Christmas, Peace and the Wall

By Rev. Mitri Raheb/ Kairos Palestine, PNN
December 14, 2012

[A] few years ago while traveling in China, I was asked by a student in one of the schools: “What if Jesus was to be born today?” I replied: “If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph might not be allowed to enter from the checkpoint, and so too the Magi, while the shepherds will be stuck inside the walls and can’t leave their little town. Jesus might have been born on the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while the Magi and shepherds would be on both sides of the wall.”

Am I confusing you with the “nice” Christmas story? Christmas has become a “nice” feast of “a sort of peace” that no one really can fully describe. In fact, it is kind of a “cheap peace”, which is something to preach about when one is not well prepared, or a bit of wishful thinking, when one is not ready to do much. Christmas has become a season for “joyful peace talkers,” rather than “blessed peacemakers”.

In our Palestinian context, “peace talk” is often a good recipe for managing the conflict rather than resolving it. As the world continues to talk peace, Israel continues to build the wall and while Christians continue singing “O little town of Bethlehem”, Israel makes sure that this town stays as little as possible.

As little as a 2 square miles open air prison surrounded with walls, fences and trenches with no future expansion possibilities whatsoever.

No one understood peace as did St. Paul. He, a former Jewish leader, a zealot, a persecutor, and a hard liner, committed himself to making sure that a wall of separation was built and kept between his community and its enemies. He was ready to attack and even terrorize whoever dared to question the importance of this wall for the security of his community. However, this same radical person was radically transformed. He had a unique encounter that made him discover the real meaning of peace, and he described it as “breaking down dividing walls of hostility.” (Ephesians 2, 14) From that moment, the zealot Saul became the passionate apostle Paul. His great discovery was that if God himself in Christ has broken the walls of hostility between the human and the divine, then there is no place for walls between peoples, tribes, cultures and nations. For his conviction, he was ready to pay a heavy price.

At a time when a wall of hostility has been built around our little town, we all need to commit ourselves anew to breaking down all walls of hatred and hostilities, be they concrete walls or ideological, racial, political, social, and economical ones. From the hometown of Christ, we have no other message this year but that of St. Paul: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us”.

Jerusalem Patriarch welcomes Christmas in Gaza mass

By Ma’an news
December 17, 2012

GAZA CITY — The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem marked the beginning of Christmas celebrations in a church service in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

“Jesus knows the meaning of homelessness, murder and injustice, but the Christmas holiday is about peace, tolerance and justice,” Fuad Twal told the congregation of a Roman Catholic church in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Patriarch said he hoped for justice and unity in Palestine, despite the difficult situation that the people of Gaza have experienced.

His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the ninth Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since the reinstatement of the Latin Patriarchate (Roman Catholic) in 1847.

“The pain we collected in the past and should bring us the land in the future,” Twal said, congratulating the Palestinian people on the upcoming Christmas holiday.

Christmas tree lit in Bethlehem

By Ma’an news,
December 17, 2012

BETHLEHEM — A giant Christmas tree was lit on Saturday evening in Bethlehem’s Manger Square marking the beginning of Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city.

Palestinian municipal workers decorate  the central Christmas tree in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Photo by Musa al-Shaer/AFP

Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad attended the ceremony, along with the mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun, the governor Abdul-Fattah Hamayil, the minister of tourism Rula Maaya and a large number of Christian clerics, Palestinian dignitaries and dozens of spectators.

Fayyad said he was welcoming the ceremony as a prime minister of the state of Palestine for the first time, after Palestine won non-member state recognition at the UN General Assembly last month.

“This is not the end, but rather the beginning of our efforts to obtain a state, bring an end to the tyranny and restore our land,” Fayyad told the crowds.

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