THE LIVING CHURCH • January 1, 2012
This is the first of two pieces on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
will publish a response by the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II in the January 15 issue.
By O.C. Edwards, Jr.
he Scottish painter DavidRoberts, whose 1839 litho-graphs of the Holy Land adornguidebooks to this day, depictedBethlehem as a small group of sep-arated clusters of buildings in a land-scape of arid hills. In those daysbefore electrical power,the streets,such as they were, would of neces-sity have been dark,and the townlikely would have knownthe deepand dreamless sleeps mentioned in“O Little Town of Bethlehem.”Bethlehem is in a very differentsituation today. The residentsallowed to work in Jerusalem or toleave for other purposes startassembling at the security wall asearly as 2:30 a.m. so they can havetheir IDs checked and be permittedby the Uzi-armed guards to go abouttheir business. Some will spend asmanyas five hours just traveling toand from their jobs, but they are thelucky ones: half of the population isunemployed.Thus the three-story wall thatimprisons their town, with itsbarbed wire on the top and regularwatchtowers along the way, hasbecome a symbol to the Palestiniansin Bethlehem of all their hardships.On a large metal door near theChurch of the Nativity, a paintingshows Santa Claus in a tractor tear-ing down the wall. Along with my wife, my brother,and a friend I visited Israel in Sep-tember as a pilgrim, a historian, anda tourist. We stayed in Jerusalem fortwo weeks at the guesthouse of St.George’s Cathedral. The warden of St. George’s College, the Rev.Heather Mueller, showed us one of the latest symbols of the wall.It was a lovely olivewood crècheof what must have been a standarddesign, with one major difference.Between the kneeling Magi and themanger was a wall,obviously mod-eled after the one around Bethlehem.Nothing else I saw so poignantlyepitomized the agony of the Pales-tinians as this modification of a tra-ditional symbol.Some Jews remained in Palestineall along, although the Romansbanned their presence in Jerusalemafter the Bar Kokhba rebellion (132-36). Some descendants of those wholeft began filtering back during the15th century, fleeing from Christian persecution in Europe.Major return,however, only began with the Zion-ist movement under Theodor Herzlat the end of the 19th century. Yet alarge majority of the populationremained Arab until the timebetween the World Wars,when thenumber of Jews increased from onesixth to two-thirds that of the Arabs.By then refugees from the Holocaustbegan to pour in and that increasedafter the United Nations divided theHoly Land into an Arab and a Jewishstate. The hostilities between thetwo groups that began immediatelyhave continued intermittently eversince.The tensions are heightened bytraumas experienced on both sides. After seeing millions of their peopleslaughtered in the Holocaust, Jewswho immigrated to the Holy Landwere committed to preventing fur-ther persecution. The Palestinians,on the other hand, did not see whythe United Nations had any right togive away land that their familieshad owned and farmed for cen-turies. They believed it was stilltheirs and they wanted it back.While some Israelis and Palestini-ans work for peace,extremists onboth sides would say what the third-century theologian Tertullianbelieved the Roman Empire wassaying to Christians:
Non licet essevos
(“It is not lawful for you toexist,” “You have no right to be”).Some religiously observant Jews sayGod gave them the Holy Land in theExodus,it has been theirs eversince,and they intend to keep it,while some Palestinians refuse torecognize the existence of Israel.Each side is so locked into its owngrievances that it is unable to seethat there are two legitimate sides tothe argument. Each side has doneterrible things to the other. Whenone looks at the situation of theBethlehem Palestinians, it is impos-sible not to sympathize with them,
Un-silent Nights in Bethlehem
Each side is solocked into its owngrievances that it isunable to see thatthere are two legiti-mate sides to theargument.