Christmas celebrations around the world were this year used by solidarity activists to remind the public of the dramatic and ongoing ghettoization of Bethlehem and the rest of Palestine. Journalists wrote countless features describing the imprisonment of Palestinians in Bethlehem, and Church leaders used their Christmas sermons and services to call for justice for the Palestinian people and to urge international solidarity with those under Occupation and imprisoned behind the Apartheid Wall.
***image1***In Oslo, the Norwegian Boycott Campaign distributed Spanish and Moroccan clementines and oranges as âChristmas presentsâ to festive shoppers in order to highlight just how easy it is to find alternatives and boycott Apartheid Israel. 50 kilos of clementines were handed out, together with boycott leaflets to an overwhelmingly supportive Norwegian public.
As Palestinians in the city of Bethlehem prepared for the annual Christmas services at the Church of the Nativity, Christian leaders drew particular attention to the current suffering of the city that is the traditional focus of global Christmas celebrations.
The international catholic grassroots movement Pax Christi organised visits to Bethlehem for the sixth successive Christmas. Representatives of Pax Christi presented Palestinian groups in Bethlehem with Christmas messages of support from hundreds of Christians and churches worldwide condemning the Wall, land theft and the brutal Occupation.
Catholic leaders in Jerusalem itself denounced the Occupation and described Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank as an âimmense prisonâ.
In London, the Archbishop of Westminster â the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales â urged people to visit Bethlehem to resist what he described as the Occupationâs âblockadeâ. Describing the inhabitants of the city as âterribly aloneâ and âtrapped inâ behind the Wall and Occupation checkpoints, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OâConnor used his Midnight Mass sermon â one of the biggest of the year â to demand, âLet Bethlehem be what it is meant to be: a free and open city.â
A movement called Churches Together In Britain and Ireland (CTBI) â incorporating churches across the full spectrum of denominations including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Pentecostal and more â denounced the Occupation and the Wall in a specially issued Christmas statement. Describing Bethlehem as a virtual prison for 160,000 people, and condemning the closure of the historic Bethlehem-Jerusalem road to the great majority of Palestinians, CTBI described the Wall there as âa grave injustice to its people, a serious threat to its economic life and social fabric, and an affront to all Christians.â
The spirit of solidarity and resistance was also present in other traditional Christmas events. In Oxford, Cardiff, London and many more cities across the UK, activists held âAlternative Christmas Carol Servicesâ accompanying traditional carol singing with songs of resistance to the Occupation. The carol singers also handed out leaflets and posters drawing attention to the injustices of the Occupation.
Bethlehem is increasingly becoming one of the areas of the West Bank worst hit by the continued expansion of the Apartheid Wall. More than 20,000 Palestinians in the Bethlehem district will be isolated behind the Wall and villages such as Nahhalin, Battir, Hussan and Wadi Fukin will find themselves imprisoned. The Wall slices right through the heart of the city of Bethlehem itself, passing just streets away from the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square and completely sealing off and annexing Rachelâs Tomb to the Occupation.