By Shahana Naqvi, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer: Christmas, celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ is a happy and a joyful occassion celebrated across the world.
This year 2023, the celebrations and festivities in the Holy Land particularly in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem (birth place of Jesus Christ) and Jerusalem stands low key and scaled back.
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Local Christian leaders and priests decided to mute Christmas celebrations in solidarity of the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian population in Gaza strip.
More than 20,000 Palestinians including women, babies, children, elderly and men have lost their lives in the on going full scale, incessant bombardment and mass murder committed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) through air and ground invasion. Nearly 85 percent of the strip’s total population has been internally displaced.
“Christmas is joy, love and peace, we have no peace, we have no joy“, says Father Speridon Sammour a Greek Orthodox priest at the Church of Nativity.
Bethlehem, the city of 30,00 people, place where Jesus Christ was born has largely remained low key, representing a ghost town as intense fighting between Israel and Hamas rages on ……..
Christmas celebrations like parades, music ,carols, singing, feasts, lights, markets, Santa Claus distributing candies and gifts, decorated Christmas trees all remained largely distant and quite.
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The streets that swelled with people enjoying their festivities, marking a joyous occassion, a rather important historic event in human history have largely remained empty of any festivities. With almost no pilgrims and only handful of tourists present in the Holy land, the souvenir shops gather dust.
Living under occupation and the impending war is choking the existence of Palestinians and threatening their livelihoods like never before.
CHRIST IN THE RUBBLE
At the Evangelican Luthern Christ Church in Bethlehem, Rev.Dr.Munther Issac a Palestinian Christian theologian in his annual Christmas message this year told the congregation that the, “Christmas message is not about Santa, trees, gifts, lights etc.”, according to him the message has been twisted and commercialized.
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For him, “Jesus who survived a massacre was born among the occupied and marginalized. He is in solidarity with us in our pain and brokeness.”
Rev.Dr.Issac stood beside the small Nativity scene in his chapel, in the manger scene Baby Jesus is wearing a Palestinian traditional scarf (keffiyeh) lying on a pile of rubble. “This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine”, Rev.Dr.Issac said, “It is the true message”.
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The Christmas story mentioned in the Gospel of Mathhew has Joseph, a Jewish man living in Palestine under Roman rule is forced to report to Bethlehem for a census. He takes his young pregnant wife Mary, unable to find lodgings, no room in the inn, they settle in a stable where Mary gives birth to the, Kings of Kings.
King Harod of Judea learning of the birth of rival orders that all male children under 2 years should be killed. Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt.
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The story of Jesus is one who is born into hardship, lived under occupation, survived a massacre and became a refugee. Rev.Dr.Issac says,” it is a story that we as Palestinians can understand ”. It is a story that echoes the Palestinian struggle.
In days leading to Christmas celebrations the occupied Palestinian territories have words like Santa, gifts and carols been replaced with words like massacre, refugee, census etc. because for most of them the price for freedom has been too costly and they are already paying a very heavy price.
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Christmas story is about God in human form present with people in their suffering, and is full of deep messages and meanings. It is important for now as well since the place, people and circumstances are all too familiar.
It is a human story of pain, suffering and triumph and somewhere inspires us to not give up hope, some where deep down in my heart I know that the resilience of the Palestinian people will triumph over all odds and obstacles.
It is important to recall this story time and again because it gives hope to the hopeless and revives our faith in humanity and human values.
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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai
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