We have been writing annual Christmas messages of peace, for human rights,
and relating sometimes what happened in the passing year for decades. Since
I returned to Bethlehem in 2008 these messages have been special. Since
founding the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS)
in 2014, we also added greetings from PIBS.  This year writing seems
tougher than ever considering the ongoing and unprecedented
genocide/holocaust occurring in Palestine. In the ten weeks before
Christmas, more than 20,000 civilians (>8000 of them children) were killed.
2.3 million people were denied food, water and medicines while all means of
life around them were systematically targeted. Palestinians (Muslims and
Christians) are literally starving to death and dying from lack of medical
care. 65% of Gaza residential buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged.
Israel also targeted schools, hospitals, clinics, churches, mosques,
bakeries, sewage and water facilities, electrical, communication and other

 We local Christians cannot “celebrate” or do decorations while injustice
persists.  The Church of Nativity during this season usually received
hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Today it is shrouded in dark clouds. We
can only pray and meditate on the need for peace and justice in the
birthplace of the prince of peace. We native Christian Palestinians (the
first Christians) reflect that some 2.5 billion human beings believe in a
message that originated with a Palestinian baby born in a manger here. We
reflect on the real message of Jesus of love and caring for the oppressed
and the suffering. The harsh reality on the ground reminds us of our
responsibility to shape a better future. Bethlehem is home to 260,000
Palestinian Christians and Muslims including over 60000 refugees. We
natives are limited to live in only 13 percent of our district while over
150000 colonial Jewish settlers live on stolen Palestinian lands of the
district.  Bethlehem is besieged and blockaded. Bethlehem University like
other universities is mostly offering courses online due to the apartheid
system. Bethlehem is isolated from its urban twin city Jerusalem (5 miles
away) via an apartheid wall destroying the economy for Palestinians on both
sides of the wall. Israeli Jewish settlers and soldiers move freely and
have taken over most of our land and natural resources and regularly attack

Eight million of the 15 million Palestinians in the world are refugees or
displaced people thanks to a meticulous Western-backed program of ethnic
cleansing. The vast majority of Palestinians who remain are living in
concentration camps like Bethlehem, Jenin, and Gaza under a ruthless
apartheid fascist Israeli regime. Despite all of this, we are still hopeful
because we take a long view of history. Some 100,000 years ago humans
migrated from Africa using Palestine as the passageway to Western Asia and
then the rest of the world. This is where our ancestors first domesticated
plants and animals (agriculture and pastoralism) some 11 millennia ago.
This allowed development of the earliest civilizations (in the Fertile
Crescent), the first writings and the first thoughts of deities. Our
Canaanite ancestors spoke a language we refer to now as proto-Aramaic. From
this language and its first alphabet came the Arabic, Syriac and Hebrew
languages and alphabets. Aramaic was the language of Jesus. Phoenician
Canaanites evolved the Aramaic alphabet and delivered it to Europe and it
became the alphabet you are reading now. ‘A’ is from Aramaic Alleph (turn
upside down to be the symbol of the bull) and ‘b’ from Beit (house) turn to
the side to see a domed house and so on.

People lived in relative harmony here with nature and with each other for
thousands of years. Thankfully very few attempts to transform Palestine
from a mixed society of various religions and backgrounds to try to make
our country monolithic. The latest such foolish attempt was to transform
Palestine into a “Jewish state” (apartheid and ethnocentric chauvinistic
state). A state that is failing though with significant bloodshed.

As we reflect this Christmas from Bethlehem, we aspire to a certain future
when refugees
are allowed to return and all people of all religions live in equality and
justice. Jerusalem/Bethlehem will then become a true light unto the world.
We are grateful that there has been tremendous growth of actions by civil
society around the world to push for human rights and justice in this “Holy
Land”. This has included some significant actions for boycotts, divestments
and sanctions (BDS) from Israel in the same way we did with Apartheid South

So this Christmas we remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn
for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit
the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for
they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain
mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are
the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that
have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven” (Luke 6).   So think of us Palestinians as you think of
Christmas, and do boycott products that aid the occupation/oppression, see

History teaches us that injustice cannot last long especially when so many
people join the struggle. We in this land will continue to struggle and
yearn for freedom. We at PIBS, Bethlehem University ask for your prayers
and for your support (time and money) which helps us expand our work with
thousands of Palestinians especially from marginalized communities (see And do come visit us or at least email us/stay in
touch. Such are the best of of Christmas gifts.

May 2024 bring us closer to peace with justice
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