For a couple of days before Christmas, it seemed that everywhere I looked, Santa seemed to show up.
A Fire Truck with sirens blaring came down one of the main street in Bethlehem and who was on the back. Santa.
I was walking to an early Christmas Eve service in Bethlehem and who did I spy, hiding in the door way, Santa, or maybe Santa and a couple of elves.
Every Friday for several years some of the people of Al Ma’sara gather after prayers at the Mosque. They walk down the main street of their village and try to gain access to their fields (in background of photo). The protestors carried Palestinian flags, chanted pro-Palestianian slogans, made speeches about land that had been stolen, homes demolished, and their rejection of what they believe are illegal Israeli policies. This week they were joined by Santa who much to my surprise carried a Palestinian flag.
After a short walk the protesters encountered a flying checkpoint staffed by 25 IDF. Every week the IDF stop the protesters and announce, that the fields that once belonged to the village, are now a “closed military area”. Sometimes someone is arrested, like the week before, often tear gas and sound bombs are used to suppress the protesters
Half a dozen speakers spoke for three to five minutes in Arabic, English and Hebrew. Each one, maybe because it was Christmas, reminded us that many Palestinians in an around Bethlehem are Christians and that they are seeking a non-violent end to the occupation of their land. They promised that their weekly nonviolent activities will not stop until the Palestinians achieve their legitimate rights of self determination.
Within a few seconds of the previous photo Santa was shoved by the IDF soldier and ended up flat on his back.
The woman with the “End Apartheid – Boycott Israel” sign was a teacher from Israel. She spoke directly to the soldiers in Hebrew. After the protest, as we walked back, she told me that in essence she said “That of all the people on the planet Jews should know that just following orders is not an excuse for doing wrong. She challenged them to ‘Disobey orders and do the right thing’.”
The next morning, Christmas Eve morning in Manger Square, brought out more Santa’s, sometimes working together to create an image “FREE PALESTINE”, sometimes fanning out across the square handing out pro Palestinian Christmas cards which read
In the face of daily aggression, illegal land confiscation, illegal rampant settlement construction and the Apartheid Wall, we urge you to Boycott Israeli goods.
The Palestine National Initiative wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (in five languages)
Strangely, on the other side of Manger Square we were treated to several hours of Pipes and Drums from various Scout troops from Bethlehem. Go figure. This is, at least in part, how they celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem.
Manger Square: A mosque at one end, a huge Christmas tree whose lights were turned on by President Abbas, Churches all around, venders selling just about everything (large pots of boiling corn, beside coffee shops, beside christmas crafts and nut venders), nativity scenes, performers, protesters and pipers, and the church of the Nativity at the other end.
A wonderful marketplace of cheap stuff and rich ideas.