Ariel Sharon's visit to the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque (Al Haram Al Sharif to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews) has wrongly cast the current Middle East violence as being between Jews and Muslims. The fact is that nearly a third of the victims of the violence are Christian Palestinians. As American Christians ready themselves for the Millennium Christmas, I am surprised that this does not seem to acquire a more important dimension for them. The contrast between Bethlehem's Biblical images Americans will display in their homes and the reality of this little town, embattled day and night by Israel's military assault, will be shocking. Bethlehem, this most powerful icon of Christianity, is literally being ripped to pieces. And so are the neighbouring Christian towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. And there is not a protest from the Christian world. More than half of Chicago's Arabs are Christians, worshipping in five churches that offer services in the Arabic language. My mother's family hails from Bethlehem. Her cousin presides over the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. During a recent visit to Bethlehem, I spoke with Fr Samour who told me that the church has always survived even the most brutal attacks. His words are little comfort as I watch on satellite TV the raw footage of Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships blasting into the heart of this tiny town; satellite TV is my only remedy to one-sided media coverage. Each day, the death toll of Christians and Muslims rises. More and more Palestinian homes and structures in Bethlehem are being destroyed. Many of Chicago's Christian Palestinian community will observe the Millennium Christmas by keeping the lights on their Christmas trees and season decorations turned off. For Christians who trace their roots directly to this little town of Bethlehem, nothing can compete with the glow that shines in the courageous heroism that we see in our families back home. This Christmas belongs to them. Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer. This report was sent by the Living Stones Network, an informal network of friends and supporters of the indigenous Palestinian Christian community drawn from Friends of Sabeel UK www.sabeel.org, the Amos Trust www.amostrust.org and the Scottish Palestinian Forum.
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