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The Grinches Who Stole Jerusalem

In the last few days several attempts to pen a Christmas Day posting failed. Procrastination, that debilitating and enervating affliction, took over, sapping, draining, and hampering my thoughts and playing havoc with my emotions.

In fact, I spent this cloudy and very dreary Saturday morning raking leaves, hauling mounds of wet leaves and dumping them onto the compost pile, thinning out brush, pruning trees, cleaning the garage, rearranging tools in my workshop, and basically killing time to avoid having to sit down and wood peck on the keyboard.

And the reason?

All Christian Palestinians celebrate Christmas with competing emotions.  This is a time of the year during which Palestinian Christian families, like most Christian celebrants around the world,  gather to celebrate the birth of the Nazarene, that Palestinian Jewish child, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Almighty Savior. And what are feasts without food? Instead of turkey, all the trimmings, and a miscellany of deserts, Palestinians will no doubt feast by partaking  spicy lamb, chicken, pinion-nut-sprinkled rice, all the trimmings (including hummus which Israelis have appropriated as their own – along with everything Palestinian that has been scrooged by these colonial settlers), and a miscellany of deserts such as baklava, burma, knafe, and hareesa. Unlike most Christian celebrants, however, and especially among those who’ve experienced their Palestine under the brutal Israeli occupation (and/or the infamous refugee camps), Christmas is a reminder that Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Gaza, and  (more recently) Yemen are under the worst and certainly most oppressive modern military occupations and sieges compliments of paramours Israel and the United States of Israel, including Saudi Arabia, the Donald’s most recent BFF.

I think it is fair to say that for most Palestinian spouses married to non-Palestinian, non-Near Eastern others every single day is a struggle to avoid talking U.S./Palestinian/Israeli politics, avoid sharing news reports or emails, avoid expressing their anguish, anger, disgust and frustration at what the United States of Israel and its master, the Israeli government, have done, and continue to do, to deny the Palestinians their God-given right to a state of their own.

Furthermore, for those of us Palestinians who live in diaspora, our children are citizens of our adopted countries and, as such, we try hard to shield them from the decadent cesspool of the Near Eastern (Israel and every single Arab country) abyss in which hatred, racism, bigotry, religious fanaticism, tribalism, violence, and corruption are a way of life. Realizing that in addition to one-sided policies purchased by well-financed and highly organized Israel lobbyists that include pols and preachers, we keep our thoughts and emotions to ourselves lest our children have to carry the burden of dispossession, racism, and bigotry.

Last week a dear friend of mine, a Baptist preacher/Baptist university president, one of those rare and genuinely decent human beings who’s not been afflicted with the Christian Zionist disease, better known as the end of times dispensational theology, a bible-thumping, hip-slapping, mike-grabbing, pulpit-banging, money-begging, ear-piercing, and emotionally-laden gibberish-uttering  Hagee-ized clowns running amuck in the White House and Congress, sent me the following message:

U.S. Jerusalem embassy. I grieve with you over Trump’s historical myopia, his moral bankruptcy, and his General George Custer-esque arrogance.  As we celebrate Jesus in the Christmas story, we castigate Herod. Tragically, our President, in many ways, resembles the wrong character in the narrative with no end. With you, brother, in grief and joy.

Another dear Baptist friend, a retired hospital chaplain, sent the following: “Trump might get the war he needs out of this [embassy decision]. He certainly has injected heroin into the veins of the pre-millennial dispensation addicts.”

And early this morning I sent greetings to cousins wishing them a Merry Christmas and admonished them that, “while we celebrate in America, let us not forget our sisters and brothers in occupied Palestine, a people suffering under a hateful, malevolent, heartless, mean-spirited and most brutal occupier egged on by a Red Headed monster/madman Grinching his way through history.”

Donald Trump fancies himself as a Santa Clause and the White House as his white, swampy workshop. And Nikki Haley, along with a host of cabinet members, fancies herself as Trump’s elf. Indeed, Trump and Haley have served notice to the entire world: We are watching how you vote at the U.N., they threatened; if you’re misbehaving, we will cut off the foreign aid should you vote against us (reminiscent of the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality). Some 80% of foreign aid donated to some two dozen countries is in the form of arms, an endeavor that subsidizes the American Military Industrial Complex, an industry whose voracious appetite is responsible for the death and maiming of millions across the globe.  Imagine all the good we could accomplish had these funds been spent on much needed domestic needs: infrastructure, health care, and education.

But I digress.

On Friday night La Belle Femme and I attended a Sunday School Christmas social at the house of Ace and Kathy Collins. Ace is an acclaimed author, and Kathy is a popular university professor preparing future teachers to make this a better world. Their house is graced with all sorts of Hollywood memorabilia (original movie posters, autographed billboards/ Hollywood star photographs, a vintage juke box, and far too many treasures to mention).

After desert, Ace invited his guests to choose a Christmas song or a Christmas hymn. Soon after a response was elicited, Ace provided the group with the following: the name of the composer, the year the song/hymn was composed, where it was composed, what inspired the composition, in which movie did it appear, the singer’s name, and far too many details that gave a new meaning and appreciation for hymns and songs we’ve heard and taken for granted all our lives. Soon a few shared personal recollections of their youthful Christmases. Ace possesses a unique brain with a mind-boggling photographic memory. A film buff, Ace is, to use the cliché, a walking encyclopedia of Hollywood, music, sports, historical events and so much more. He is a very popular guest on telly and radio talk show programs.  Suffice it to say that he’s written the definitive book on all the Lassie TV canine characters, and his Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas and More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas are two bestselling books on Christmas traditions and lore.

When Ace looked at me, I knew it was coming. “Raouf, tell us about your experiences.”

“I won’t discuss my early experiences, but my favorite song is I will be home for Christmas.”  How could I ruin the joyous conversation by telling the gathering that my Jerusalem early childhood memories of Christmas are peppered with images of Uzi-toting soldiers yelling at Christian Palestinians lining up, much as they do today, to go to the Holy sites in East Jerusalem? A permit had to be submitted months in advance, and crossing the border to visit relatives and attend services in Bethlehem was no guarantee that the modern day Herodians would grant it. How could I tell them about standing in line for hours at a time, herded like cattle, strip searched, and having one’s toys confiscated? How could I tell them about last week’s point blank shooting/murder  of an unarmed Gaza double amputee confined to his wheel chair? How could I tell them that this heinously murdered twenty-something victim is a metaphor for Palestine and her people – a people amputated from their land and heritage in the vise of hateful interlopers?

Instead, I responded by saying that during my first few years (as a student)  in America I’ll Be Home for Christmas had a much deeper meaning – until I met La Belle Femme. I didn’t mention that I was a stateless person for the first 31 years of my life, and I hoped that those present would read between the lines: Palestinians’ every single day is a yearning, a deep longing, and a daily prayer to go home, not only for Christmas, but for every day of their lives.

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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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