How interesting would it be to imagine Jesus’ life played out in modern day Palestine? It is the Christmas season and nowhere is this little skit more appropriate than here, the Holy Land, where Jesus was born.
The Little Town of Bethlehem is still there but this time, the Virgin Mary gives birth to her son in a makeshift tent along Israel’s eight-meter separation wall. The baby, miraculous in his conception, cannot be taken into Jerusalem for his first checkup because Mary and Joseph have tried –” but failed –” to obtain Israeli permits to cross the checkpoints into the city. Instead he was raise by his parents in a humble abode, built "illegally" given its close proximity to the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, which meant Israeli authorities would not grant them a building permit. Baby Jesus grew, went to school in the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp school run by UNRWA (Joseph and Mary were originally from the town of Beit Nabala which was depopulated and leveled to the ground in the 1948 War) and became a handy carpenter, just like his father. While his parents, especially his mother, knew just how special her boy was, they both kept the secret on the down low during Jesus’ childhood.
At 16, Jesus was granted his first ID card, a green covered Palestinian card that allowed him to travel in the West Bank but not Jerusalem, a city he longed to visit even in his youth. Joseph and Mary tried to protect their son and keep him from harm’s way, but living under a ruthless military occupation such as Israel’s, it was almost inevitable that Jesus would have some sort of run in with his occupiers. It happened one day as the youthful Jesus tried to get "smuggled" into Jerusalem so he could visit the beautiful city he had heard so much about. A flying Israeli checkpoint (he and his friend had circumvented the major checkpoints) stopped the car he was in and consequently arrested him for illegally entering the city.
While he came away from the experience unscathed, Jesus knew Jerusalem would one day be the place of many miracles, not least of which would be his own. He knew he would return but first he and his family would move to Nazareth, which was not only occupied but was now beyond the Green Line, inside Israel. The news of Jesus’ eccentricities had begun to leak among the community in Bethlehem and the Israeli authorities were not happy with a young man who claimed to carry the word of God. The family thought if they tried to blend in with the Palestinian-Arab population in Nazareth (even if they had to live there illegally since they were West Bankers) at least they would not be under the constant watchful eye of Israeli military authorities. Joseph and Mary had already been summoned to the Israeli police station more than once to answer queries about their son’s miracles on suspicion that he may be involved in arms smuggling or at least incitement towards Israel.
And so, the humble family made their way to Nazareth, taking back alleys and dirt roads to avoid the many checkpoints and army patrols until they reached their destination. In Nazareth, Jesus became even more popular with the Palestinian residents who eventually realized with awe that a prophet was among them.
Fearing a political takeover, not to mention a shift in Jewish to non-Jewish demographics in Israel, government authorities put out an arrest warrant on Jesus. He took to the hills and became a wanted man on Israel’s black list much to the distress of Mary. It would not take long before he was caught, found kneeling in prayer in a cave overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Handcuffed and shackled, Jesus was taken to Jerusalem’s Russian Compound detention center where he was held in solitary confinement for two weeks. By now, the prophet had followers who were protesting outside the prison demanding his freedom. They were quelled with tear gas and rubber bullets, beaten down with billy sticks and horse kicks but they would always come back. Finally, Jesus was sentenced to death in an Israeli military court for inciting against the state of Israel. He would be marched through the streets of Jerusalem for all to see and hung on a cross.
Jesus’ prediction had come true. He had returned to Jerusalem and he would die there. But he knew his death would not be ordinary, just like his life was not and no Israeli occupation would be able to stop his message from reaching the masses.
True to their word, Israel’s executioners put Jesus to death –” or so they thought – in the most brutal of manners in the city he loved. Little did they know, there was a far more powerful hand at play than their M-16s, separation walls and checkpoints, mere earthly impediments that could never stop Jesus or his followers from embracing the message he brought with him.
As Palestinians today celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land for yet another year under Israeli occupation, they nevertheless continue to rejoice in the holiday and the religious occasion it represents. Also on this occasion, my childhood "revelation" comes back to me. After a Christmas pageant in my Kalamazoo, Michigan elementary school, I ran home elated with my exciting news. "Mom, Dad, guess what? Jesus was Palestinian!"