From Nazareth to Bethlehem, anno 2001

This week, people around the world will sing “O little town of Bethlehem” and say “peace on earth, goodwill to all people.” However, in the land where Jesus was born, there is no peace and people suffer daily violence. Imagine if today, Joseph and Mary would leave from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Would they manage to arrive in time for their son’s birth? Would they be allowed to pass through various checkpoints and roadblocks?

Joseph and Mary would have to travel through Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and then south through Jerusalem to finally reach Bethlehem. It’s doubtful whether they will reach Bethlehem. All entry and exit points to the West Bank and Gaza – even mountainous paths and dirt roads – have been closed. Israel’s siege takes the form of over 150 military blockades erected in the West Bank.

Roads have also been blocked by 100-meter long ditches and trenches, concrete barriers on maid and side roads that make it impossible for Palestinians to leave their villages and for medical aid to arrive. When Palestinians attempt to leave on foot and if spotted by Israeli army patrols, they are shot at. Ambulances and medical services are blocked from reaching thousands of homes and families. Hundreds of towns are completely isolated and suffer from serious shortages of food and medical supplies, as well as basic services.

Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups have reported various cases in which Israeli soldiers have shot and killed Palestinians without provocation at roadblocks. The blockades have not provided security for Israel, but have radicalised moderate Palestinians whose still believed in peace.

Would Mary, a pregnant woman, be allowed to pass through these checkpoints? One month ago, Fatima Nasser Abed Rabbo gave birth at an Israeli military checkpoint in al Walaja village, near Bethlehem. Fatima and her husband, Nasser, were trying to reach the hospital in Bethlehem. Soldiers at military checkpoints twice refused to allow them to pass, saying that Fatima’s condition was not critical. After trying for about one hour to pass the checkpoints, Fatima gave birth to her son, Walid, in the car.

Fatima was only seven months pregnant, as a premature baby, Walid required urgent medical treatment. The family reached the hospital in Bethlehem one and a half hours after he was born. Walid weighed 1417 grams, and his temperature was extremely low on arrival. He died that afternoon; it is likely he would have lived had he received immediate care. Numerous women have suffered the same fate in the last few months because of Israel’s policy of closure and repeated refusal by soldiers manning the checkpoints to allow passage to people obviously seeking medical treatment.

If Joseph and Mary would finally be able to reach Bethlehem, they most probably wouldn’t have a hard time finding a place to stay. In the past few years, Palestinians have spent millions of dollars on upgrading tourism. However, most hotels are empty, closed, shelled or burnt. There are no tourists, the Nativity Church, build on the spot where Jesus was born, is empty.

This is the daily reality of 34-years occupation. The price paid for resistance to occupation is too much. This also applies to the economic, social and humanitarian damage caused. Of course there should be an immediate end to the violence. This includes the inherent violence stemming from a military occupation. Governments that have called for an end to violence must also call for an end to the occupation and support international protection for civilians.

While the world sings “peace on earth”, Palestinians living in Bethlehem are not allowed to go to work, school, or hospitals. They might be able to see light stars in the sky above the town, however, there is a great chance that they might see Israeli Apache helicopters instead.

The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda), and LAW -The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, in Jerusalem.