Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas under Occupation

Christmas under Occupation


by Mazin Qumsiyeh




When I look out the balcony of the faculty lounge at

Bethlehem University I hear the constant hammering of

the construction in the settlement that separates us

from Jerusalem and I see Israeli settlements built on

Palestinian lands surrounding Bethlehem on three sides.

 Every two weeks, Jewish settlers "visit" the hill on

the fourth side (called Ush Ghrab) that they have set

their eyes on.  Yet, I hear the US media is focused on

other things including the weighty matter of dodging shoes.


After living 29 years in the US, it is not easy to be

living in Bethlehem area especially this Christmas

season.  Life can be at times hard, exhilarating,

depressing, fun, and hopeful.  Israel occupied this

area in 1967, but the landscape had begun to change

well before that.  In 1948, Bethlehem became home to

thousands of Palestinian refugees after more than

750,000 people were driven from their homes in what

became Israel.  Palestinians were forbidden to return,

and three cramped refugee camps (Dheisheh, Azza, and

Aida) add to the local migrants from villages whose

lands were taken over.


Since 2002, we have faced the enormous human costs of a

massive, concrete segregation wall.  The wall zigzags

around Bethlehem, placing fertile Palestinian

agricultural lands on the "Israeli side," and in many

cases goes straight through centuries-old villages --

separating Palestinian families from each other and

from their jobs, hospitals, schools, churches and

mosques.  The wall and checkpoints meant that many

faculty and students can no longer make it to school at

Bethlehem University and our student body has steadily

lost its geographic diversity.  The biblical and

literal path from Nazareth to Bethlehem is blocked by

many checkpoints and thirty-foot high slabs of concrete.


Many of my relatives lost jobs in Jerusalem or lost

livelihoods that depended on the city of which we are a

suburb.  It is virtually impossible for West Bank

Palestinians to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem or

for Jerusalemites to engage in commerce with us.  Even

if one gets a rare permit, checkpoints make travel

unpredictable and often impossible, precluding

maintaining a decent economy.  Unemployment is now at

45%, nearly twice what it was during the US Great

Depression.  But we can be thankful that we are not

living in Gaza where things are far worse.  Yet, the

whole area feels like a ticking time bomb.


Israel's desire to acquire maximum geography with

minimum Palestinian demography is the root of the

suffering afflicting the Holy Land.  Today there are 6

million Palestinian refugees and displaced people.

Amnesty International has observed that the "peace

processes" failed because Israel has ignored human

rights, including the right of native Palestinians to

return to their homes and lands.  There is now a broad

international consensus (with the exceptions of the US

and Israeli governments) on the danger to international

peace and security posed by Israel's continued

violations of human rights and international law.

Clearly if one wants peace in the Middle East and

beyond, the path starts by giving justice to

Palestinians.  I am doubly pained as an American and a

Palestinian Christian because my taxes support this

60-year carnage.  Israel is the largest recipient of US

foreign aid and the US administrations still go out of

their way to cater to Israeli lobby influences.


The logic of military and political power dictates that

Israel is now building more Jewish settlements and

demolishing more Palestinian homes and farms in spite

of its obligations under signed agreements and under

international law.  The current Israeli government is

even moving further right to fend off the extreme right

of Netanyahu before the elections.  The incoming Obama

administration has appointed Israeli apologists to key

positions of power (Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel)

indicating we should expect no "change."


Israel as the occupying power is responsible for the

welfare of those under its belligerent military rule

per the applicable Geneva conventions.  Yet, Israel has

intentionally de-developed the Palestinian economy.

With the collusion of the EU and the US the economy of

the West Bank and Gaza became even more dependent on

Western "humanitarian aid."  Some 30% of this aid is

siphoned off into Israel and some 30% goes to support

Palestinian "security forces" whose job seems to focus

not on protecting Palestinians from settler attacks but

to fight any Palestinian who dares to resist the

occupation or challenge the usurpation of his land.


There is a system of corruption involving governments

and "authorities" trickling down to people.  This is

coupled with a media strategy that makes it look as if

the only choices available to Palestinians are blowing

themselves up or capitulation and endless negotiations.

 This sad state of affairs did not just happen but was

engineered and is actively managed to perpetuate

occupation and dependency.  Why else would Israel deny

entry to academics coming to teach at the universities

here or entry to equipment for even the simplest of

industries?  Why deny Gaza electric power and equipment

to treat the sewage and thus let sewage of 1.5 million

people flow into the Mediterranean Sea polluting Europe

and even Tel Aviv?


But we are hopeful; history is not static as is amply

illustrated by many historical examples including the

rise and fall of the Bush dynasty.  Here in Bethlehem,

we derive strength from knowing that the foreign

military occupation that existed at Jesus's time has

ended. We derive hope from the thousands of visitors

who come every year to show us solidarity.  We derive

contentment and patience from our faith and prayers.

We derive energy from our work for peace with justice.

The heads of our churches this year asked the

international community to consider "what would Jesus

do" in this situation of injustice.


In this season celebrating the birth of the Prince of

Peace, let us all resolve to pray and work for ending

the occupation that began in 1967 and for implementing

other internationally recognized Palestinian rights.

When we succeed, people of all religions (Jews,

Christians, and Muslims) and all backgrounds will share

this small piece of earth in harmony and peace.  This

will be the real change that we have been working for

and that will finally shed the shackles holding US foreign policy.


This is our prayer this holiday season.


Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD is Chairman of the Board of the

Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People -- -- and is a professor at Bethlehem

University in the occupied West Bank.  This article

first appeared in on 17 December

2008. Contact him through his website:


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