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Christmas 2015 Brings More Misery, Poverty and Dispossession for Bethlehem and Palestinians

In the Christian holy text Matthew tells his readers about the special events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, a Jewish child, conceived miraculously to a young girl, and born in a manger to Joseph of Nazareth and Mary, his betrothed. And because there was no room at any of the inns, Mary delivered the infant child in a manger in the Holy City of Bethlehem, Palestine.

In some ways circumstances in Palestine some two-thousand years ago were no different from what they are today. Palestine was a Roman colony, and as such, the colonizers ruled with a brutally iron fist and exacted hefty taxes. After the Roman Senate declared Herod King of Judea (a vassal king to impose Pax Romana) his paranoiac affliction and ruthlessness inflicted misery on the people of Palestine, Jews and others alike. Fearing that the birth of Jesus would eventually depose him, he ordered the murder of some three thousand innocent children in Bethlehem and environs. The Massacre of the Innocents has been memorialized in art by  Peter Paul Rubens, Guido Reni, Giotto, Breughel the Elder, and Nicolas Poussin.

Violence and executions, taxation without representation, human rights violations, segregation, exploitation, xenophobia, expulsion, and the confiscation of personal and communal properties were the norm in a society that demeaned its indigenous non-Jewish populations in first century Palestine.

If one were to compare conditions in Pax Romana  Palestine at the time of Jesus’ birth to Pax Americana in modern day occupied Palestine, one would be shocked to discover that Roman occupation was infinitely more benign than the current Israeli occupation.

The Jews of Jesus’ time considered the Samaritans and others inferior races, claiming that the Samaritans were not thoroughbred Jews, and that God excluded all Others from his Covenant. This legalistic and intolerant ethnocentrism paved the way for the Jews of the time to transfer the mixed group Samaritans to Samaria; the latter were reviled, persecuted, ostracized and restricted to the West Bank’s Mt. Gerizim.

While Islamophobia in America and Europe is on the rise, official modern-day Israeli policy is rooted in racism and rabid ethnocentrism. Israeli society is stratified as follows: Ashkenazi (European Jews) at the top of the pyramid; Sephardic (Eastern Jews) second tier, Ethiopian Jews a distant third; Druze fourth; Africans fifth; Israeli Arabs sixth; West Bank and Gaza Palestinians in the sub human tier.  Indeed, in October 2010 Israel’s Chief Rabbi uttered the following rabidly racist statement:

“Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the People of Israel, … Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi [rich landowner] and eat,” he said to some laughter.

Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party and the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, also said that the lives of non-Jews are protected in order to prevent financial loss to Jews.

“With gentiles, it will be like any person: They need to die, but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant. That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew,” said the rabbi.  (Jewish Telegraph Agency,October 18, 2010)

On December 22, 2015, The Telegraph reported that Israeli citizen Benzi Gopstein posted the following on the Lehava ultra-Orthodox web site: “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land.”  In other postings he opined the following: “Let us remove the vampires before they once again drink our blood.” Lehava derives from a Hebrew phrase which translates to “ Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land.” He has been implicated of writing graffiti, defacing, and the burning of Christian churches, including the Galilee-based Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. “In a series of provocative comments, … Gopstein also attacked members of the Christian faith, calling for them to be expelled.”

In like manner, the Israeli Government is ethnically cleansing Palestine of its indigenous people utilizing countless measures. Now in its 48th year of occupation, Israel, using its Fascist settlers and, aided and abetted by Netanyahu, his cabinet, and the military,  has honed the following to an art form: demolishing of homes, confiscation of land, uprooting of olive trees, burning farm crops, disposing settlement effluent onto Palestinian lands and wells, daily killings and shootings, humiliating strip searches and check points, denial of medical care, Jews only highways, a twenty-five foot high wall of separation, rabidly racist comments by government officials, extra judicial assassinations, tear gas, torture, incarceration of innocent civilians without due process, attacking the weakest in Palestinian society, namely, the old, women, and children, in routine daily crimes with which Palestinians have to contend on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. There are over 500 children in Israeli prisons. Children as young as five years old have been beaten, arrested, interrogated, and detained.

As an example of Israel’s official thuggishly brutal policies of dispossession and theft, a headline in the Middle East Monitor’s December 23, 2015 edition reads as follows “Jewish Settlers Seize Shop in Jerusalem’s Old City.”  Accompanied and protected by Israeli soldiers, Jewish settlers seized, by force, a Palestinian-owned shop. For resisting this blatant Israeli Government-sponsored theft of a business owned by generations of Palestinians, owner Al-Qaisi was arrested and hauled off to the police station.

On November 27, 2015, the Palestinian National Al Hakawati Theatre, Jerusalem’s only Palestinian theatre, was ordered shut.  One has to wonder what crime did a children’s puppet festival commit to invite Herod’s wrath, during this, a season of love, peace, goodwill to all men and women across the globe?  And to choke an already starving Palestinian population, only last week Israel’s army shut down stores in a village just south of Bethlehem, and  Palestinian stores in another Bethlehem neighbourhood were demolished by IDF forces.

What Rome was to Herod, America (and subservient Obama/Congress) and an acquiescent Europe are to Netanyahu and Israel. This year there’s not even a single Wise Man from either the East or the West on the world stage. Not one, but many Near Eastern and Western Grinches have stolen Christmas from millions of kids around the world, Innocents who yearn not for the expensive toys, but for a warm bed, warm clothes,  safe shelter, three decent meals a day, safe schools and communities, playgrounds, and hope for a future free from the threat of evil by the likes of our modern-day NetanHerods and Obamas.

The expression of agony on Poussin’s mother in his masterpiece The Massacre of the Innocents is the same expression one witnesses  on the faces of Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Afghani, and Somali mothers, including all the suffering mothers victimized by oppression and wars.

As my dear friend, the Honourable Judge Wendell Griffen says, “Jesus was an occupied Palestinian, not an Israeli occupier. Get your story straight.”

 

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Raouf J. Halaby has just recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status. He taught English and art for 42 years. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, and an avid gardener. He can be reached at rrhalaby@suddenlink.net

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