Bethlehem at Christmas

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Bethlehem at Christmas (‘O little town of Bethlehem’: a world of collective punishment)

by Matthew Vickery

2013-12-20-banksy-beth.jpg

Mary and Joseph were refugees – it would be difficult for them to go in or out of Bethlehem today. (Kodjo Deynoo. Artwork originally by Banksy under a Creative Commons Licence)

Many people know very little about modern Bethlehem, but at Christmas, there are many pictures of this place, which looks beautiful and peaceful, on Christmas cards.

Modern Bethlehem is surrounded by a concrete wall. At its highest, the wall is over eight metres tall – twice as high as the Berlin Wall – with three crowded refugee camps inside it. All over the world, Christmas is a time to visit family, but people who live in Bethlehem often cannot visit their family at any time of the year. They have to ask permission from the Israeli authorities, even if they want to go six kilometres to visit friends or family in Jerusalem.

It is difficult to get the permission - sometimes impossible. Life here is not very optimistic. It is a world of group punishment - they were born in the ‘wrong’ place, where they do not have simple freedoms and rights. We can see bullet holes on buildings around the city to show how difficult it is to be under occupation of one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries. Occupation here and in the other occupied Palestinian territories is terrible, but the world does little about it.

People in Bethlehem and Palestine in general have terrible restrictions on freedom of movement. They break human rights conventions. This is a basic right: there should be no discrimination on the basis of nationality, religion, ethnicity or geographical birthplace.

But there are many stories in Bethlehem of human rights broken by the military occupation. A woman’s son was put in prison without trial under the “administrative detention law” (the Israeli government uses this law to put Palestinians in prison without charge for two years without trial – then the two years can start again at the end). Two young children saw their mother killed as she went to open her door in Aida refugee camp – she was blown up by an impatient Israeli military unit who preferred to continue their patrol through the overcrowded homes of refugees rather than the road going through the camp. An olive farmer had to watch his olive trees – everything his family had - dug up to build a Wall that cuts off half his village’s land as well. A young couple watched their new-born child die because they could not get permission to go through a military checkpoint to get to a hospital.

These stories are real, and there are many more; all the stories were in and around Bethlehem in recent years.

People who celebrate Christmas and support people living under oppression must start to use Christmas to talk about the difficulties of Bethlehem and the Palestinian population.

If we decorate our homes this month with pictures of Bethlehem and do not show awareness of its reality, this is an injustice to Palestinians and their suffering. It is a rejection of the basic right of Palestinians to enjoy the same freedoms and security that we have.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL:http://newint.org/blog/2013/12/24/bethlehem-occupation-christmas/ This article has been simplified, so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed.