As they did last year, the holidays feel quite a bit different to me again this year. There is something so magical about singing Christmas hymns in church while overlooking views like this of the city of Jerusalem. Those kinds of memories will stay with me forever.
But there are also other memories about this place that will most likely haunt me - and I hope they do, because I never want to forget. On a recent trip to Bethlehem, I was able to learn more about the recent history of the sacred city. Most of the world imagines a small town 2,000 years ago that was the birthplace of Christ. I can only wish that its history would remain so simple and angelic. The separation wall that runs through Israel/Palestine has greatly divided the city of Bethlehem. It is now only 20% the size it used to be. As you can imagine, this unthinkable decrease in size has led to many homes lost and many jobs disappearing.
The wall as you enter Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
One of the many long, confusing walkways of the checkpoint.
Part of the wall from inside the West Bank. There is a lot of graffiti/art all over the wall. Often it is a chance for people imprisoned by this wall to have a voice. Some of the images can just break your heart.
Others make you laugh. :)
This is a home surrounded by the wall on THREE SIDES!
Can you imagine your neighborhood being whittled down to nothing and your house becoming surrounded by cement and barbed wire? When I try to imagine my childhood home this way, I literally feel like my heart will burst at the heartache these people have been through. The woman who owns this place fought the courts all the way to the highest court in order to keep her house. It was supposed to be one of the MANY lost to the Israeli side, but she won. Can you imagine this scene being evidence of your hard fought victory?
Near Bethlehem there is one of the many refugee camps in the West Bank. We visited Aida Refugee Camp, and it was an eye opening experience. Just miles away from where I currently live, this camp was developed after the war in 1948. Originally the homes would have been mere tents, but have since been replaced by homes made of mud and concrete. There are so many people that they have to keep building higher, becoming suffocatingly crowded.
Now pay attention. There are roughly 6,000 people living on about 6 acres, the majority being children. Again, I think of my childhood home. We were a family of 9 living on an acre. Compare that to 1,000 refugees living on each acre, and well, you can begin to imagine how these people live.
The entry to the camp.
The key symbolizes all the keys that these families had (and many still have) that belong to all the homes they lost. The arrow on top points to the words "Not for sale" as shown in the picture below. The lower arrow points to the area where the Palestinian people built a stage where the Pope was supposed to speak from on his recent visit to the area. The Palestinians had planned an elaborate program that included the children giving him gifts. It was an opportunity for the world to see the reality of the refugee camps, with the wall and watch tower leering in the background. But at the last minute, the Israeli government pulled the cord on those plans. They can't have everybody seeing what's actually going on, right?
A quote from Pope Benedict says it better than I ever could: "We cannot be silent when faced with images of immigration camps in numerous places in the world, of people forced into terrible situations in order to avoid even more terrible circumstances, leaving them in need of everything. Aren't those our brothers and sisters? Haven't their children come into the world like others, with a legitimate claim to happiness?"
Children swarmed the car, anxious for the opportunity to get their picture taken. They had been running around, playing on the trash filled streets with the wall in the background. :(
The following are pictures I took of the camp as we drove around. Keep in mind these are not back ally-ways. These are their streets - the only thing they can call a yard. The one school in the camp is run by UNICEF, and they keep their schoolyard open after hours because it is the only place where the kids can run and play without being in the streets.....
This picture makes me think of my sweet Jackson every time I look at it. It breaks my heart that he has no shoes on. :(
In 1948, the United Nations Resolution stated the refugees' right to return. But I can't imagine that ever happening. Meanwhile, the already high unemployment rate has only plummeted even further since the building of the separation wall. Many people have had to completely close down their shops, while others have lost employment that they used to have in Jerusalem, but they can no longer get there.
I understand some of the mentality of Israel building the wall. The Palestinians were acting out in violence, and the wall is supposedly deterring it. But there are a few holes in that approach. For one, they started building a separation fence around Gaza long before any of the terrorist attacks on Israel. Also, there are a lot of Palestinians on the Israeli side, and there are a lot of Israelis on the Palestinian side. So if someone wanted to act out in violence against Israelis, there's really nothing stopping them. I just can't help but think that the wall goes way beyond "protecting" people. I think it's PART of it, but it's not the whole of it.
Anyway, Middle East politics aside, we all obviously have so much to be grateful for. I know times are tough in the states right now. I know many people have lost their jobs and even their homes, but there is STILL so much to be grateful for. Our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ have given us so much more than we deserve. I know that Christ lived and died for us, and he rose on the third day. The tomb is empty! I know that He lives and loves us. He gives us all that we have. Let us all show Him our gratitude this Christmas for His willingness to come to earth, be born in the most humble of circumstances, and suffer for our weaknesses. He is the Comforter, the Prince of Peace, the very reason for the season we are celebrating.
Merry Christmas everybody.