By Ray Hanania
As a Christian, no city in the world means more to me than the “Little Town of Bethlehem.”
I write about it often, mainly to remind American Christians — many of whom have forgotten the roots of their faith and therefore the spirit of their Christianity — that Bethlehem is a real city and not just a picture that hangs on a wall at Christmas time, and that it is under a brutal occupation by Israel’s far right-wing government which oppresses not only Christians but Muslims, too.
As a Palestinian Christian, of course, Bethlehem symbolizes the dedication to free Palestine and support a peaceful end to this conflict that has raged on for more than 67 years so far.
My mother’s family is from Bethlehem. When she was young, she would walk to Manger Square and fill up a large urn of water that she carried on her shoulder. I actually have a photograph of that scene, which was also the scene that captured my father’s heart when he saw her and their marriage was arranged.
Mom lived there with my grandparents, Saba and Regina, and her two brothers and three sisters in a little home at the top of the hill on Madboussa Street. The home has been replaced, I am told, by a large new building.
When I was the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper publishers sent a contingent of reporters to Bethlehem to cover the visit of the mayor there and to Israel and Palestine. Because I am Palestinian, I was excluded. Imagine, the newspaper editors at the time felt that I would be biased, but that it was ok to send two reporters who happen to be Jewish. The American news media is one problem with America, of course.
Of course, I went to Palestine on my own and spent several weeks there staying with a cousin in Ramallah during the First Intifada. It was quite an experience that I wrote about. And despite the constant hassles I faced at the Chicago Sun-Times, four of the five stories I wrote were published in the Chicago Sun-Times (after a big internal fight) and they were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by an editor and great journalist whom I admired, Earl Moses, who saw past the internal political battles between Jews and non-Jews at the Sun-Times and felt the stories were worthy. (Even though they never made it to the finals and they didn’t win but just being nominated for them by the newspaper made me feel proud as a journalist.)
Bethlehem needs your help and your support, especially if you are an American Christian. American Christians have so much power and influence to help their own people.
So many American Christians don’t seem to care or identify with their fellow Christians who suffer under the Israeli military occupation. It’s not just oppression from the military but the more growing threat of racism, hatred and violence from the Israeli Jewish settler movement which is slowly taking away Christian-owned lands around Bethlehem.
My own family land near Bethlehem and Sharafat, which is adjacent to the illegal settlement of Gilo, is under siege and I constantly write about it as a reminder to Americans not to believe all of the lies from the Israeli government. It’s also a reminder to Palestinians that while we might have differences — severe and serious with the rightwing fanatic Israeli government, our fight is not with the Jewish people or even the Israeli people, many of whom are openminded, fair and support justice (but are just afraid to speak out about justice because of the extremists on both sides.)
Standing up to the extremists has been my mantra for many years. Extremist Israelis and extremist Palestinians, extremist Muslims and extremist Arabs.
The fight to me is between extremists and moderates. Moderates are those who support peace based on compromise and the only real solution to the conflict which has claimed and continues to claim so many lives, the Two-State Solution. One State of Israel and one State of Palestine, sharing Jerusalem and where the people on both sides can live in freedom and security.
American Christians can support both a Free Palestine and a secure Israel. American Christians can support their own people, the Palestinian Christians and demand their civil rights, without denying Israel’s right to exist or to support the rising tides of extremist fanatics on either side.
It can happen.
But the first step towards peace is for American Christians to find peace int heir own minds and spirit. When they do that, they will be moved to do what is right and support an end to the Israeli occupation and the freeing of the original Christians who survive in Bethlehem, the Holy Christian City, despite the brutal Israeli occupation.
Here is the link to the live video feed of the City of Bethlehem and Manger Square. As an American Christian, you may go to Church on Sunday, but you should also make a spiritual visit to Bethlehem, too.
The English language website for the City of Bethlehem is:
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Palestinian American, Hanania is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News and President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media consulting. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)