My Bethlehem Experience: the Sequel

I did go back last night to hand out my “Bethlehem Today Christmas cards” at a local church’s reenactment of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. (This time alone, since the others had previous commitments). Once again my experience was mixed.

The frantic woman, again dressed as a Palestinian in head scarf and robe, continued hurrying ahead to warn people about me. I don’t know what she said, but it caused a tiny fraction to drive by with their windows up, looking straight ahead and appearing uncomfortable and /or angry as I wished them a Merry Christmas. Occasionally I would add a Peace on Earth or a Good Will Toward Men. They would shake their heads.

Most people, of course, simply became curious and lowered their windows as I approached. I smiled and wished them a Merry Christmas, and they responded in kind. I would then briefly explain something like: “I’m not with this church, but I was in Bethlehem not long ago, and families there asked me to tell Americans about them, so I’m trying. Here’s a small Christmas card of Bethlehem today to go with the celebration of Bethlehem 2000 years ago.” They would thank me for the card, I would thank them, and we would both proceed on our ways, smiling.

I tried to stay away from the Roman Centurion as much as possible, not wishing to replicate my previous experience with him. He did come up to me, however, informing me that the church had called the police to have me arrested and had been told that they could arrest me if I blocked traffic, etc. He seemed extremely eager to have me taken away in handcuffs, but since nothing I was doing was even remotely illegal his dream remained unrealized.

The previous evening someone had taken a bag full of booklets I had brought along in case anyone was interested in learning more about Israel Palestine. They were quite heavy and the plastic bag had begun cutting into my arm, so I had finally placed them on the ground; they weren’t the kind of thing you would normally worry about getting stolen.

But they were. At the end of the evening I had told Woman Who Warns that someone had stolen my property and asked for it back. It was probably about $30 to $40 worth of material. She said that taking a bag on the sidewalk was not stealing. This was interesting. I then went up to their plastic bag full of cassette tapes for the Experience and reached for it. She grabbed it out of my hands. Another woman, this one also dressed as a Palestinian, said: “That’s stealing!” I told her I agreed, and commented that I would probably report the theft of my property to the police. Of course, if I had done this, very little would have happened. The report, however, would have appeared in the police log, which local newspapers often publish.

Happily, last night Woman Who Warns told me she had, miraculously, “found” the bag! She returned it to me.

A little later a man dressed as a shepherd came up to me as I handed out my Bethlehem cards a block away from the church and said angrily, “You’re not invited to the party!” I was startled, but then appreciative. He had nicely crystallized the nature of the event. I wonder who else wouldn’t have been invited. I can’t imagine John the Baptist receiving an invitation, or Peter, or–probably least of all–the one whose birth this “shepherd” was partying around.

On the other hand, most people were friendly and their children sweet. Several people asked with concern about what was going on in Bethlehem today. One woman, having been warned of me, rolled down her window and even before I’d had a chance to greet her, thanked me for being there. Another woman asked for an extra card. A man asked me for a stack. He attended another church nearby, he said, and wanted to take them back to the congregation. He said that they already had things from Jerusalem, and would be pleased to pass these out.

It was a good evening.

ALISON WEIR is executive director of If Americans Knew. She can be reached at:


Alison Weir is executive director of  If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. An excerpt of her book was published in the March 21-23, 2014 issue of CounterPunch. Upcoming book talks can be seen on the book’s website.