O Little Town of Bethlehem


It was December of 1991 and I was serving as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in Washington DC. The Israelis were stalling –not even negotiating in bad faith. And the Americans were doing nothing to get the negotiations underway. This had been going on for three weeks and Christmas was fast approaching.

Those of us on the Palestinian Team who were Christian were wondering if we were going to be able to get home for Christmas–many Palestinians are Christian, the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles themselves.

I would periodically check in with my wife and two sons at the time–little boys. My poor, sweet wife had to do all the Christmas preparations by herself without me. So the weekend before Christmas i called her up to say i still did not know if or when i would be coming home. My oldest son who had just turned 5 talked to me on the phone:

Daddy why aren’t you home for Christmas?

Well son, I’m trying to help the Palestinians.

Daddy, why are you doing that?

Hard to explain the entire Middle East conflict to a 5 year old, so I put it into terms he could understand:

Son, you know that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem don’t you?

Yes Daddy.

Well I am here with the Mayor of Bethlehem and some other Palestinian leaders. They are my friends and i am their lawyer. I am working with the Mayor of Bethlehem to help all the Palestinian Children have a merry Christmas.

Ok, Daddy.

We got the word we could go home for Christmas on December 23 and i got on the first flight out of DC getting home just on time for Christmas Eve with my Family.

Last Sunday I attended Church Services here with my Family. When it came time for prayers from the congregation, I got up and asked everyone to help the Palestinians along the following lines: Bethlehem is cut-off and surrounded by the Israeli army–the Church of the Nativity too. The Israelis are inflicting ethnic cleansing upon all the Palestinian, both Muslims and Christians. They are also pursuing a policy of deliberately forcing Palestinian Christians out of Palestine as part of a perverse strategy to turn a war of national liberation into a religious crusade, figuring it would play better in the United States. And these are the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Meanwhile, the United States government is financing it all to the tune of $5 billion per year. Everyone in this Congregation has gifts given to them by God. So go out and do something to help the Palestinians! In particular, this Congregation should join the Israeli Divestment/Disinvestment Campaign. If the Presbyterians can do it, we can do it!

FRANCIS A. BOYLE, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, is author of Foundations of World Order, Duke University Press, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, and Palestine, Palestinians and International Law, by Clarity Press. Boyle was a Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations (1991-93). He can be reached at: FBOYLE@LAW.UIUC.EDU

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