Monday, January 01, 2007

O Little town of Bethlehem ...

Two different articles describe the difficulties of life today in the village of Christ's birth.

This piece in the Telegraph focuses on the hardships faced by Christians and the deteriorating relations with their Muslim neighbors:
"It's not as if there is a single thing like this cleaver that cuts us Christians down," he said as he bagged up pork chops for a regular Christian customer. "It's more like a slow, steady pressure, which is slowly killing us off." In the run-up to Christmas, the once large Catholic community could have been expected to buy large amounts of pork for meals and celebrations. This year, he estimated, business was down by two thirds compared with a decade ago.

Bernard Bassil, 50, a water engineer and regular customer at the butchery, likened it to a slow, steady suffocation. "With the problems from the economy where Palestinians don't get any money from the government, there are no jobs to go round. And we know that, if a job becomes available, it will go to a Muslim, not a Christian." He said tension between the Christian minority and Muslim majority is a daily feature of life. It rarely flares into violence or spectacular acts of cruelty, but it steadily corrodes the quality of life enjoyed by Christians.

"My son, Nazar, when he was just 13, used to come home from school and the Muslim boys of his age from the local refugee camp would run after him shouting 'Nazarene, Nazarene', which is a derogatory local term for Christian. Once they caught up and threatened to beat him unless he said Allah was his god and Mohammed his only prophet. We had to move house, but now my son has left university and cannot get a job, so every day he says we must leave."
[Hattip Zadok] This one in the Economist emphasizes the complexity of life in Bethlehem:
Like every youngster who grows up in Bethlehem, Ramiz is learning to deal with life as a series of negotiations. To begin with, there are several different sets of Christian symbols. If he is lucky, a grinning Santa in a red cloak with white trimmings will visit his school this Christmas and dole out presents—personifying a modern, Teutonic idea of an early Christian bishop called Nicholas, revered in Bethlehem for centuries before anyone sang “Jingle Bells”. From his family, Ramiz will hear an older version of the Bible story. Like the majority of Christians in Bethlehem, his parents are Greek Orthodox. But many other Christian confessions exist in the town, and the faithful rub along alright, even if the clergy squabble.

Then there are the relationships with the family's Muslim neighbours. In Beit Sahour, dealings between Christians and Muslims have usually been amicable. But now that Palestinian politics are dominated by the Islamists of Hamas, the business of daily life has become more complicated. So far, the Christians of Bethlehem insist, Hamas has treated them decently—turning back, for example, from proposals to make Sunday, the Christian holiday, into a working day. But the Christians would not be human if they did not regard Hamas rather warily. When the Islamist movement first emerged around 1987, people in Beit Sahour saw it (not absurdly) as part of an Israeli ploy to undermine relations between Muslims and Christians.
On this day of prayer for peace, pray especially for peace in the Holy Land!

1 comment:

assiniboine said...

Not sure whether you will have seen this but the photo essay on the effect of the wall on life in Bethlehem is far more arresting than any verbal narrative I've read or heard.