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Thursday, October 27, 2016
Christian voices from Bethlehem
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¬†The Amos Trust has sent us this series of reflections from Christians in Bethlehem. Canon Naim Ateek - Director of Sabeel, ecumenical liberation theology centre, Jerusalem A Christmas message - Fear Not! I think we need to challenge churches to be more courageous this Christmas; today more and more people have some knowledge about what's really going on in Bethlehem yet fear makes people keep quiet. I think the message of Christmas is "Fear Not!" It is at the heart of the message of Christmas. What is holding people back is their fear. People are unwilling to take a stand and I think the message of the angels is still very pertinent. If we can tell our church members that as long as they are afraid they will succumb to the message of the oppressors. That is what the oppressors want them to do ≠ to be silent, to be afraid; they try to intimidate them. But the message of Christmas is "Fear not." We have the good news, and the good news does not allow people to be encircled in a big prison. This is not good news. So it places greater responsibility on us to say, 'what is happening in Bethlehem today is bad news, not good news'. One of the first sermons of Jesus was about release of the captives, and in Bethlehem today they are all in captivity ≠ they are prisoners. If we do not speak up, who is going to speak? How can we celebrate Christmas when people are in captivity -when Bethlehem is in prison? And yet, in spite of all of this, I would stake my life and say my hope is in God. He is a God of hope. We are people of hope. Our hope begins with a birth in a stable at Bethlehem. Our hope helps us overcome our fear. And we will continue to address these issues prophetically - as often as we can - until freedom comes. Wisam Salsaa - Tour Guide from Beit Sahour, (meaning the Shepherd's Fields), near.Bethlehem. I'm very angry, I don't like it, I hate the wall, I hate the settlements; I think that we no;onger have any chance for the future in this prison because, as you see, Bethlehem is completely closed I think that the situation will get worse and worse, because even though they talk about peace and they talk about solutions, look what's happening on the ground. How can we live in peace if there is a wall going around us and there are even settlements behind these walls and they are still building settlements. So we are talking about peace today and the bulldozers are taking more land and pulling up trees around here and making something permanent on the ground. That means that we'll never have peace. At least, where I live, we'll never have peace. Peace for me is freedom. Peace for me means justice. Peace does not simply mean smiling and saying 'hello' to the Israelis. This is not peace. I don't think the future will be good over here unless something happens. And I do not see anything happening soon. I would like to tell your Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "Be a man. Don't be afraid of the Americans. Go and see the truth and do what you should do. As a human, as a Christian, as a Prime Minister you must be brave. We need a brave person to take the initiative and do something against injustice. For many years, we have given the same message to the churches - Help the locals. Help the Christians. Keep the 'living stones here'. This year my message would be different. I would tell them - let's celebrate Christmas without Christians in Bethlehem. Help us to get out from here. Maybe churches would do that. Do something. Either help us to stay, or help us to get out, but please help. Please do something! We need the story to be told. We need people lobbying on our behalf. Put pressure on your government to take a step toward justice in Palestine-Israel. This would be very effective. Support projects, help people to survive, support schools, scholarships, sick people, hospitals. At least let people have their basic needs so they can keep their dignity. Of course it is very important for people to come here. The best way is for people to see with their own eyes what is going on. It is more important than anything else. People here are very peaceful people. People want to live. People want to love. People want to dream. That's why I'm still here because people are good. Go to the villages. Go to the refugee camps. You feel at home. You feel the warmth. Something that you don't always see anywhere else. Bishop Riah Abu El As sal ≠ former Bishop of Jerusalem My message for the churches at Christmas is - 'Stop mentioning the word Bethlehem unless you care about us. Stop singing "Oh little town of Bethlehem" unless you come and visit with its people, unless you do something about protecting the holiness of the place, and the Christian history of this wonderful place. Why continue to sing for Bethlehem when Bethlehem is in prison. How can we sing joyfully when people are being killed, being harassed, being humiliated. It is true that Jesus Christ did not find a place at the inn, but you are not told that he was humiliated - not told that he was stopped from entering Bethlehem. I'm sorry to say that the way the church today relates to the Christian community in the land of the Holy One and to the people of Bethlehem, causes me to wonder whether we are of the same family. I ask the question, Are we really of the same family? What are you doing? Singing? Praying for peace? If I get the chance I will say, 'There is something wrong with us. Christians make up 2 billion people in the world in the Christian community and we can't resolve the issue of Bethlehem?'
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