Bethlehem….i was there…still there…occupied but free….

i was there folks, over 5 years ago…We came to Bethlehem in late afternoon and had to wait outside in the hot sun until the time arrived when we and the Palestinian people who live there and who’ve just returned from work were ‘allowed’ to enter the town where Jesus was born and where they lived. It’s not a big town,just 25,000 or so and yet like it was 2000 years ago, it is still under foreign military occupation. Surreal to say the least. Our group (we were the recent members of internationals come to Palestine to do good deeds and such as Christian PeaceMaker Teams was quiet and not quite sure what to do as we looked around and uncomfortably watched the 10-15 Palestinians as they waited before the almighty whim of benevolence that the IOF might or might not have and let them in.
Well as we were finally ‘allowed’ to enter you had the unmistakable distinct impression you were entering a prison. You had to go thorough a maze of concret walls with metal turnstiles and we then had to show the kindly IOF(Israeli Occupation Forces-who towered above you, overlooking you on chairs) our passports and then…we were in.
Inside an area surrounded by 30 foot high grey walls pockmarked with watchtowers with two-way glass windows and you knew you were being watched. That was the first time i cried since coming to Palestine. To realize that the place where Jesus was born was now as then, under military occupation was traumatic. We all seemed a bit shaken and rather out of sorts as we were led to our abode off the main avenue and to our bunk bed rooms. We ate a rather subduded supper and then after settlling down in our rooms for a few hours to write and relax. Sometime later we were called out and gathered for a meeting. We talked about some of our the days events and reflected on our observations and reactions.At the end of the meeting the leader asked for 2 volunteers to go scrounging for food for tomorrows breakfast. A nice decent fellow named Dan, and i decided to go.
It was dark and getting late, when our leader was ready to go and then after 1 or 2 miles she admitted to being somewhat lost. But we just truged on, made a few side-street turns and finally we made it to our destination after 4-5 walking miles. We could hear singing,car horns and other forms of ruckus going on. It was about 2am and from a dark side streets we entered the center of town; Mangers’ Square’ all lit up like it was Christmas. It looked as if a great party was going on. Laughing,singing,dancing and everyone was having a great time. As i looked around in amazementand befuddlement i realized that these faces were the descendants of Jesus himself and for only the second time i wept. But this time it wasin pure joy,astonishment and wonder. Because here was a whole town under lock and key for decades and yet they were free,happy, undefeated and could never be defeated by arms,blockade,occupation or imprisonment because they were just too free to be. They were and are the free-est people i’ve ever met in my life and they were living basically living in a prison.
Wow, the relatives of Jesus. What deep and potent stock did he come from and to have it manifest right before me in such grace and glory. i was humbled,oh yes, at this epiphany moment and experience i was humbled at the strengths of a people who will never be cowed nor defeated….My first day in Bethlehem…
Every Christmas my thoughts go back, especially to this early morning in the middle of ‘Manger’s Square’, and i try understand and practice the message, though i miserbly fail all too often…But i never give up’ i get back up and try again to live a life of integrity,poverty and servitude. And so this is Christmas…Image

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