The pope’s visit to Bethlehem made me contemplate how much Palestinians are in need of prophets and messengers of love, peace, and mercy, and how much politicians are in need of a dose of spiritual balance in order to spread those values.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seemed pleased while attending the mass with the Pope in Bethlehem.
Journalists felt out leaders took a break to get a strong dose of “Belief in the Victory of Justice Over Evil.” They haven’t forgotten politics, nor have they forgotten the occupation’s policies but they lived a moment of peace, remembering Jesus who spread love among people away from all political concerns.
Our late President Yasser Arafat was in love with this city, Bethlehem, and as far as I know he asked Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 to make Bethlehem the temporary capital of the Palestinian Authority until they reached an agreement on Jerusalem. Arafat sent experts and engineers from Tunisia to prepare the city for the return of Palestinians from exile. However, the engineers and experts claimed that the country hills surround the city too tightly. Bethlehem would not be able to host thousands of new residents. Arafat gave up and felt disappointed byt he kept connected to this place and visited on every possible occasion.
Later, during the Second Intifada, when Ariel Sharon tightened the siege around Arafat, bearing down on his Ramallah headquarters with Apache helicopters, the Palestinian leader tried to move to Bethlehem and set up shop in the Casanova Hotel beside the Nativity Church. It was his way of saying that the Jews who chased Jesus, tortured and crucified him were trying to repeat this persecution with Arafat the child of this country. At that time, Sharon deployed 10,000 soldiers and policemen around Ramallah, who searched cars in an attempt to prevent Arafat from reaching his beloved city. Instead of passing away in Bethlehem, he met his end in a far away French city.
The streets of Bethlehem are small but the hearts of its residents are large and they are open to welcome more than 300 busloads of tourists and believers from all around the world to the Nativity Church on a daily basis. When Israel Radio asked me during an on-air interview if Bethlehem was unduly hyped in the media from the pope’s visit, I answered spontaneity that the Pope is the one who got such free PR. This city, where leaders and presidents from all over the world come and bend on their knees at the small door of the Nativity Church, calling for forgiveness, crying at the 3,000-year-old walls, crying out for mercy and for spiritual and psychological stability, following steps of Jesus Christ who said, asked, ‘what does a man get if he wins the world and loses himself?’
While the Jews go to pray at the Wailing Wall, believing that these remnants of a wall belong to their Second Temple, we believe that Bethlehem’s walls are not ruins. Rather, they are full of life, and shame on Israel for having surrounded the church and shelling it on the pretext of chasing fighters who hid inside it in 2002, shame on Israel for having killed seven civilians who tried to reach the water well inside the church to drink.
Here, from the heart of this city we send forgiveness for the whole world and we show all the best that we have explaining to them how that government headed by Netanyahu showed the worst it had from the beginning.
The Holy Father sawa 15-meter-high wall separating schools from churches and families from each other. He also saw soldiers surrounding the country, looking for Palestinians frightening them. The pope’s motorcade passed the Caritas Hospital and the French Hospital in the city, but Palestinian doctors and nurses did not get the chance to explain to him how Palestinian mothers give birth at military checkpoints and in the streets, and how newborn babies die, simply because they are accused of being “Palestinians.”
We, Palestinians of the city of Bethlehem, do not hate anyone, nor do we want anyone to hate us. We want to follow steps of Jesus Christ; we want to love life and we are proud of being Palestinians to a level higher than their hatred of us. And we will get triumph. Mr. President, smile and be proud while you’re in Bethlehem and know that Bethlehem itself is greater than hatred of Israel, and more powerful than Apache helicopters.