Silent Bethlehem

As the world prepares for Christmas Eve with joy and celebration, a sense of painful silence haunts the birthplace of Jesus; an empty Manger Square in Bethlehem echoes with vague images of the past, when the bustling of both locals and tourists reminded everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.

This year the warmth of celebration in Bethlehem is replaced with the stillness of death, the agony of shattered lives, the memory of lost children, and the pain of injustice; Bethlehem is silent again.

Having deprived the people of Palestine from their Christmas joy, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems eager to inflict more pain and humiliation on a nation already shattered by conflict.

Israel’s “security fence” arrived in Bethlehem. It snakes through the suburbs, close to the old stone houses. But the term “fence” is misleading. The section built in Bethlehem is made up of a triple layer concrete wall and two metal fences, one equipped with electronic sensors. The space between the two fences is patrolled by Israeli army jeeps.

Israel is building hundreds of miles of fence across the West Bank. The pilgrims who travel to Bethlehem for Christmas this year will find that the city of Christ’s birth is being walled off. Fears are growing that the city may soon become a prison.

Yet hope seems helplessly far as Ariel Sharon’s war-mongering and provocative government continues to disregard the most basic and fundamental freedoms of the Palestinians.

Clearly, international pressure on Sharon (even the odd condemnation at some points) failed to alter the course of a government possessed by the harshness of militarism and political immaturity. Tragically, he has drawn the region so far into the depths of hatred and hostility that ‘peace,’ much like Christmas itself, seems nothing short of a sweet illusion lost in the bitterness of conflict.