Silent Bethlehem

Ironically, as the world prepared for Christmas Eve with joy and celebration, a sense of painful silence haunted the birthplace of baby Jesus; an empty Manger Square in Bethlehem echoed with vague images of the past, when the bustling of both locals and tourists reminded everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. This year, however, the warmth of celebration in Bethlehem was replaced with the stillness of death, the agony of shattered lives, the memory of lost children, and the pain of injustice; Bethlehem was to be silent.

Having deprived the people of Palestine from their Christmas joy, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seemed eager to inflict more pain and humiliation on a nation already shattered by conflict; an Israeli cabinet decision to ban Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from attending the traditional midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity embodied the worst kind of intolerance, racism, and indecency. It seemed to (unnecessarily) confirm that the arrogance of occupation has no boundaries.

Israel’s multiple sieges on all Palestinian areas in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem has left 2.8 million Palestinians economically and socially strangulated within isolated areas. 24 December 2001, a Christmas Eve without its people, will forever be remembered, and forever be painful; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will remain imprisoned at home, waiting for yet another glimpse of hope for a better ‘tomorrow.’

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.