Beyond the Christmas lights, the real Bethlehem
Fadi Abu Sada
BETLEHEM, (MENASSAT.COM) – Of all the cities in Palestine, Betlehem is by far the most beautiful. Especially at this time of year, when dozens of laborers are decorating the streets in preparation for Christmas. At night, when all the lights come on, it looks even more fabulous.
And yet, the city that beats with life during this time of the year is in reality a dead city.
The dead city remains largely hidden form the hundreds of journalists from all over the world who have begun to arrive in the city in order to cover the Christmas celebrations. It remains hidden to most of the Christian pilgrims who have come to celebrate Christmas in the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
As they arrive in Bethlehem from the North, which is the only possible approach due to the Israeli occupation, the pilgrims and the journalists might catch a glimpse of some of the ironic art on the security wall that Israel established in the city.
They might see the human leg protruding from the wall, or the portrait of an Israeli soldier checking the ID of a donkey, the Palestinian Child investigating an Israeli soldier, or the peace pigeon in the sights of a sniper already anticipating its death.
What they will not see is the historical path that Jesus Christ took from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, as this path has been closed off by the Israelis with a cement wall.
For sure, on Christmas, the Israelis will remove the wall for half an hour, just long enough for the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabah to arrive in Bethlehem, as if nothing had happened.
They also can’t see the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints distributing flowers and sweets to the Christian pilgrims arriving in Bethlehem, telling them, “Welcome to Israel!”
Sure enough, visiting journalists will frequently focus on the secondary aspects of these ceremonies, such as the Christian emigration and its reasons. They might also highlight some of the Israeli measures in the sacred city, such as the issue of the separation wall, or the colonization fence around the city that consists of 19 settlements, and the deteriorating situation of tourism due to the occupation.
Palestine TV, the official channel affiliated to the Palestinian Authority, doesn’t remember Bethlehem unless it’s Christmas.
Here it is sending live broadcast cars to the city along with large crews of technicians to ensure 24 hours coverage of the event.
This is all because the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas always visits Bethlehem at Christmas, and leads the mass. Covering his presence and participation is a big issue, and all the TV channels in the Arab World will carry it.
All this coverage doesn’t reflect real life in this sacred city.
Nabil Tawfiq Audi, an intermediate level teacher of Christian Religion, said that “the real Bethlehem is supposed to occupy a larger portion in the media during this event, and I don’t feel that this side is covered sufficiently in both the local and international media”.
The real Bethlehem might be the one of a group of youngsters who decided to form an unofficial framework under the name “Markab” [the boat]. Their aim is to collect money from the wealthy people who come to Bethlehem at Christmas in order to distribute it to the city’s poor.
“The media doesn’t know anything about this, and doesn’t mention the poor people of the city and the cruelty of their lives” , said Raja Awwad, a member of Markab.
According to Awwad, “the media intentionally overlook that we in Bethlehem are still living under the Israeli occupation, and that the occupation forces penetrate daily into the city in order to carry out assassinations and detention operations. They also ignore the fact that we are living in a small prison, whose doors are open only on holidays so that we can see new faces and feel – even for a short time – that we are still alive. After that, the doors will close once again, as if nothing had happened. Where does the media stand on that?”
Many happy returns!
Fabi Abu Sada is the Director of the Palestine News Network, www.pnn.ps
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