Fahmi Manasra and his twin brother Ata live in the small Muslim village of Wadi Foquin just outside of Bethlehem. They are tour guides, who have no work since there are no tourists! Last month, I and a small group of fact finding pilgrims were able to give Fahmi some work for a day. He took us all over Bethlehem to see the affects of the Israeli invasion, then out to Wadi Foquin.
Preface to “A Christmas Message from Bethlehem”
Fahmi Manasra and his twin brother Ata live in the small Muslim village of Wadi Foquin just outside of Bethlehem. They are tour guides, who have no work since there are no tourists! Last month, I and a small group of fact finding pilgrims were able to give Fahmi some work for a day. He took us all over Bethlehem to see the affects of the Israeli invasion, then out to Wadi Foquin. This small agricultural village is in a beautiful valley, where the locals have lived peaceably working the land for generations. It is the only Palestinian village to be destroyed after ’67 and then given permission to return, if they could build their homes again in one month!! They were living in Deheishe Refugee Camp at the time and their spaces were required for an overspill from Gaza!
Recently, it seems that Israeli authorities regret that decision. October to December 2000 the villagers were terrorised nightly by IDF soldiers roaming through the village streets shouting and shooting randomly. Not once did any villager retaliate by stone throwing. Settlers set up a tent of intimidation at the entrance to the valley also during autumn 2000 – the only way into the village. The teenage youth who go to the next village of Husan to school were forced by the settlers to sit on the ground for one hour on their return from school one night – imagine what that did to the parents waiting for them in the village a mile or so down the valley.
This village and valley have the Greenline to the west. Now, to the east a few metres from the small school in the village a new settler road is being built across the stolen land of Wadi Foquin. This precedes, the development of a huge conurbation planned to extend the settlement town of Beitar Illit right down to within a few metres of the village, built of course also on land stolen from the village. The dynamiting involved in excavating the hillside for the road is shaking the little school to its foundations, causing numerous cracks to appear. Flying rocks from the explosions have gouged out the flat roof of the second of the two small school buildings. On the west side of this narrow building is the small dirt area where the children play. This is the poorest school I have seen, but the children are bright and alert and so friendly in spite of all their hardships.
About ten days ago, the settlers blockaded again the road out of the valley, and the IDF patrolled with their guns trained on any villager who attempted to go near. The villagers were understandably distraught and one lady due to give birth any day and needing hospital in Bethlehem was frantic. Thanks to the email links which the Manasra men now have in their homes in the village, friends here in UK were alerted at once, including several MP’s who are friends of Palestine. At an emergency debate on Israel/Palestine in the House of Commons the following day this story was told. Interestingly, soon after this, the blockade was dismantled and the villagers enable to resume a semblance of normality.
This then is the background from which this message from Bethlehem comes!
A Christmas Message from Bethlehem
For hundreds of years the Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem have shared their feasts together. Some of our best childhood memories are of Christmas in Bethlehem. Everyone rejoiced and expressed their pleasure during happy times of singing and dancing in the decorated streets. The other honoured occasion here was the yearly observance of Ramadan. We never felt any barriers between the Christians and Muslims in this town. A perceptive American friend of our says, “This is the only place in the world where Muslims celebrate Christmas and Christians celebrate Muslim feasts!”
As we write this, it’s the second day of Eid, the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. This year there are no jubilant celebrations nor will there be any next week with the arrival of Christmas. For the last three years, the two major celebrations of these monotheistic religions have pretty much overlapped with each other and for each of these three years, the people have stood together reaching out with the same desire for peace and prosperity to come to us.
We the people who know how to celebrate together also know how to weep together. In fact, this has been our bittersweet history for the last 33 years while we’ve been under occupation. Even though this is a special time of year, how can we be happy knowing that during the last three months alone 36 people from here have been killed and many others have been wounded! Not one of us will forget the many victims like Johnny, the 17-year-old boy who was killed in front of the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. He was on his way out of the Church when an angry bullet entered his chest destroying his heart, which only a moment ago had been praying to God. There’s also Mary, the 36-year-old mother of seven shot outside of the mosque. We know them all by name, the innocents killed while walking in the street or even while in their own homes!
No one here is in the mood to celebrate as we used to. We can’t even think of buying special food for our celebrations when we hardly have enough food to survive on! We have nothing to give our children allowing them to live a normal life like the rest of the world.
Cold comes this time of year and we have no way to heat our houses. How can we? We’re not allowed to work so we don’t have the money to pay the electric bills or to buy fuel. No, the houses and streets of Bethlehem will not be decorated. In fact, most of the streets were damaged, some very severely, under the heavy tanks that patrolled our streets at the end of October. We’re still trying to recover from that horrendous evil!
The people of Bethlehem long, once again, for a saviour to come to them who will bring us peace and security. God delivered his message here once before. The little baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, showed us the way to live so that people would know peace and security. We ask all the people who read this to help us by prevailing upon God’s justice so that each person can know freedom. Because we live with such desperation, we know that it can make people mad and drive them to commit unwise actions in the hope that it will force others to look at their case. Please help us so that the wretched frustration we live with is eased.
Join us in praying that the hope born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem will live in our hearts so that even though outwardly there are no decorations with singing and dancing, in our hearts we rejoice because we know that God has heard our prayers and will again come to Bethlehem.
Ata and Fahmi Manasra