HOW SHOULD Christians celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem this year? Since Nov. 22, the city and its surroundings have been under a crippling 24-hour curfew that has only been relaxed for a couple of days during the entire period. Opinions vary from those calling for a total boycott of all festivities, including the traditional Latin patriarch's parade on Christmas Eve to those who insist that life and celebrations must go on in spite of the Israeli actions.
A third option is also being circulated. It calls for the public to celebrate the holidays but attempt to use them to demonstrate the displeasure of the Palestinians at continued Israeli oppressive measures. They want the world to know how they feel by wearing black shirts or decorating Christmas trees with empty bomb shells and other symbols of the Israeli army's brutal anti-Palestinian policies. Some non-violent activists are calling on Palestinians to go out in the streets with olive branches and black flags as a proactive participation in showing the world that Palestinians reject the continued Israeli
occupation and oppression of their country.
There certainly is a sympathy paradox operating here. Palestinians are accustomed to being told they bring their woes upon themselves. But the intertwined identity of the general Palestinian populace as Muslims means that Palestinian Christians are left twisting in the wind. Still, whatever their religion, Palestinaisn are united in their political opposition to the Israeili occupation. Also worth reading is this first-person account of how the radio station in Bethlehem, which for the past seven years has provided live coverage of the festivities, has also been shut down by IDF fiat:
Danny Qumsieh has been working hard this Christmas season to raise money so that Bethlehem's only local radio station can continue in its tradition of covering the holiday events. As manager of the radio station he was frustrated that he was unable to find commercial sponsors because of the devastating economic situation due to the Israeli reoccupation of the city.... Just when he felt confident that the station will be able to go ahead with the coverage, an unexpected turn of events occurred. Israeli soldiers decided on December 23 to take over the building housing the station. The staff of the radio station and the entire building was evacuated and the station had to go off the air.
For seven years now, Radio Bethlehem 2000 has provided live audio coverage of the traditional Christmas Eve parade, Christmas Eve Carols from Manger Square and Midnight Mass from the birth-place of Jesus Christ. I should know. I was there when we first started this radio tradition in the Christmas of 1996.
A few days before Christmas, Israel announced that it was planning to ease the curfew and other travel restrictions to allow Bethlehem's Palestinian Christians to celebrate the Christmas. The radio station was beaming carols and announcing Christmas related events when this ugly act took place.