O Little Town of Bethlehem… What would Christ say about His birthplace today?

Bethlehem Ghetto
By Stuart Littlewood

British people in lockdown over the festive season feel resentful, prevented from driving the length and breadth of the country, hugging family and friends, scoffing mountains of junk food and downing great quantities of booze in the local pub.

But it will hopefully give them an opportunity to ponder the real meaning of Christmas.

Do they ever think about the people of Bethlehem smouldering under the brutal lifetime-long lockdown imposed by Israel’s military? And from which there’s no escape, no respite?

Do they realise that the Little Town of Bethlehem they sing Christmas carols about is ringed and hemmed in by Israel’s ugly eight-metre concrete apartheid wall, with goon towers and machine guns at regular intervals? When finished it will run 440 miles. It is built under the pretext of Israel’s security and supposedly follows the 1949 international armistice border called the Green Line, but it’s actually twice as long because it deviates wherever it wishes to steal, enclose and plunder prime Palestinian agricultural land and other resources along the route. The Israelis’ aim of course is to establish a border of their own choosing at the expense of their Palestinian neighbours.

The wall makes it very difficult for Palestinians to reach their fields and market their produce. Restrictions on freedom of movement limit their access to neighbouring villages, hospitals, schools and universities. Maintaining family ties and social connections is often impossible. The wall’s route not only ignores but deliberately denies Palestinians their human rights.

  • Building on left as it was before it reopened as the ‘Walled-Off Hotel’, associated with Banksy
  • Bethlehem back street
  • Banksy’s “Window to Freedom”, Bethlehem
  • How the wall degrades this lovely town
  • How Israel’s apartheid wall “hems in” Bethlehem and separates the townspeople from their agricultural lands
  • Building on left as it was before it reopened as the ‘Walled-Off Hotel’, associated with Banksy
  • Bethlehem back street

Bethlehem back street

In July 2004 the UN General Assembly accepted a resolution condemning the wall, with 150 countries voting for and sic against. The objectors included, as always, Israel and the US. They rejected both the verdict and the resolution.

Also in 2004 the wall was declared by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to be “contrary to international law” and should be removed. The court made the point that Israel was obligated to return confiscated land or make reparations for any destruction or damage to homes, businesses and farms caused by the wall’s construction.

But of course the international community hasn’t the balls to enforce any of that or tell Israel that if it doesn’t dismantle that gruesome barrier it’ll face worldwide sanctions.

I well remember one evening returning from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by ordinary service bus and joining Palestinian workers on their way home through the checkpoint, just for the experience. The long queue threading through the labyrinth of steel-barred holding pens, familiar in any large cattle market, moved at a snail’s pace, the flow deliberately held up by the Israeli soldiers. I was eventually plucked from the crowd by two of these uniformed gunslingers and accelerated towards the exit. I arrived back at the hotel just in time to join my friends for supper. But my fellow travellers would have been lucky to get home in time to see their kids off to bed, snatch a bite to eat and catch an early night, only to rise before dawn to go through the same soul-destroying cattle-pen routine at the checkpoint next day – twice.

The Israelis are past-masters at inflicting human misery in all areas of Palestinian life, as well as committing horrendous crimes against humanity. The sadistic bastards enjoy it even to the point of abducting Palestinian children, imprisoning them, torturing them and shooting at their legs to maim them.

For an inside account of their murderous siege of the Church of the Nativity in 2002 see pages 62-65 of my book Radio Free Palestine . Then ask yourself why the Israel lobby is allowed to thrive in the fabric of our political parties (Conservative Friends of Israel, Labour Friends of Israel, Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, etc) and even within the Christian church itself (Christian Friends of Israel, Anglican Friends of Israel and, in the US, Christians United for Israel).

Isn’t Western Christendom ashamed and angry at letting the birthplace of their faith be reduced to this? Apparently not. Church leaders and their congregations couldn’t care less, otherwise they’d rise up.

Happy Christmas, Bethlehem! They’ll do their best of course, but it won’t be all fun and frolics under Israel’s vile lockdown. Sick, isn’t it?

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