A Palestinian Christmas Story
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A Palestinian Christmas Story

The narrative structure and locations of the story of Christmas according to the Bible combined with present day scenarios and facts in Palestine.*


Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents, lived in Nazareth, in Palestine. Their families had been there for generations, but in 1948, with the creation of the State of Israel, many of their friends and relatives who lived in the region were expelled, some killed, during a deliberate, violent process of ethnic cleansing. At the time, more than half of the Palestinian population was evacuated from the region which came to be called Israel: 531 villages were destroyed (source). This process was called the Nakba – “catastrophe” in Arabic-, and today there are around 5 million Palestinian refugees (source), waiting for the day when they return to their homes


Mary’s parents remained in Nazareth and became, as Mary also did upon being born, Israeli citizens. This didn’t mean that they had the same rights and opportunities as Jewish Israeli citizens have. The allocation of  governmental budget to the neighborhood in which they lived was proof of this: Palestinians make up 20% of the population of Israel and only 6.25% of public funds are directed to their communities (source). At Mary’s school, a school exclusively for Palestinian children – as the educational system is segregated – the allocation of funds per student is six times lower than that of Jewish schools (source).


When Mary found out that she was pregnant, she kept it a secret until her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child. Elizabeth and her husband, Zacharias, lived in Al Araqib, a small village in the southern part of the country. It is one of the 60 villages which are not recognized by the state of Israel:  there, public services are non-existent. When Mary arrived in the village, her cousins, already elderly people, were rebuilding their homes which had been demolished by Israel for the 62nd time.


Back in Nazareth, the birth of the child was getting closer and closer when news arrived concerning Josph’s legal situation. He was born in Bethlehem, a city located in the West Bank, an area of Palestine which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Since they’d been married, they had faced many difficulties in trying to live together, because of a 2003 law which prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank, like Joseph, from living with their spouses in Israel.


Palestinians from the West Bank are separated from Israel by an extensive wall, in some sections, a fence, considered illegal by the International Court of Justice as it annexes blocks of illegal settlements and cuts into Palestinian land. Every day, thousands of Palestinians like Joseph, arrive at checkpoints in the middle of the night and group themselves between turnstiles and soldiers, in order to cross over to the other side (photos). These are Palestinians with permits to work in Israel, the majority of these jobs paying very little. In Joseph’s case, he worked for an Israeli carpenter.


Ever since marrying Mary, he has been involved in a legal battle for the right to live with her in Nazareth (video of the real life case). A few weeks before the birth of their child, a deportation order arrived at their home: in order to comply with the ruling from the State of Israel, Joseph would need to move to Bethlehem. Afraid they’d be separated for the birth of their child, the couple decided to move together.


Living in Bethlehem wouldn’t be easy. The Oslo Accords had divided the occupied West Bank between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel. The Palestinian Authority controls roughly 40% of the chopped up territory, a true archipelago, in which 90% of the Palestinians in the West Bank live. Of the remaining 60%, Jewish settlements and Israeli military bases occupy 70% of the land area. Considering other restrictions, only 1% of the arable land are available (subject to authorization) for Palestinian construction (source).  


Joseph and Mary stayed with a friend in the city's surrounding area. They were quite humble and they would even sleep in the barn if they had to. This was not necessary because, unfortunately, the barn of the property had been demolished a few days earlier – as were 170 others in 2010 alone.  In this same year, 222 Palestinian homes were demolished by Israel (source), which, combined with restrictions in water access and other basic resources, contribute to the continuous forced displacement of Palestinians.


Mary went into labor a few hours after the couple had arrived at the house. As soon as contractions intensified, Joseph borrowed his friend’s car and set out with his wife for the hospital. Trying to get from one place to another in the West Bank is never easy.  Movement is restricted by blocks of Jewish settlements, an immense wall which cuts into and annexes land, exclusive Jewish-only roads, and a series of road blocks and checkpoints, even within Palestinian communities – in total, 513 closures are located in the interior of the West Bank (source).


Joseph was monitoring the time in between contractions when he caught sight of a military checkpoint on the road ahead. The Israeli soldier signaled for him to pull over the car for inspection. Joseph explained the situation hoping to fasten up the process, but the soldiers didn’t care and continued to inspect the car. While insisting that the soldiers hurry up, he was removed from the car and taken to a nearby watchtower. He returned in time to help his wife, ready to give birth, lay down on the ground near the car.


Jesus was born there, on the asphalt, just a few meters from the Israeli military checkpoint.


A group of shepherds were protesting against settlement expansion in the nearby fields of the city of Beit Sahour, when they received word of what had happened. They headed to the hospital where the couple and newborn had just arrived. Three important Palestinian leaders, refugees who have lived in Jordan since 1967, tried to cross the border to visit the boy. They were prevented from doing so by a checkpoint on the Israeli border.


Jesus’ case became famous, but between 2000 and 2007, 10% of pregnant Palestinian women on their way to the hospital were delayed in similar circumstances and 69 babies were born at checkpoints in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (source and video).

The son, whose parents were fighting for the right to live together in Nazareth, was born in a checkpoint and became one more symbol of the Palestinian struggle. He has been known as Jesus of Nazareth, assuming the name of the city that was denied to him, as so many other Palestinian refugees and those internally displaced have done. He would die a martyr, without ever been forgotten.


* by Pedro Ferraracio Charbel