At Christmas I guided with Urban Tribes in collaboration with Foundation Timu Kota a group of young people in Palestine. December 24 we spend Christmas day and Eve in Bethlehem. I’ve never been in a city where religion is so strongly present. Both Christianity and Islam are rampant through the city, the minarets 4.45u wake me at night and the Christian Christmas is celebrated here at the Nativity so exuberant as nowhere else in the world. According to the belief the baby Jesus was born here. The power of religion touches me and scares me at the same time. On the 24th the Patriarchs, a group of Christian leaders from different cities in Palestine, visit Bethlehem. Ten thousand people gather in Manger Square to welcome them. Fanfare scouting associations from all over Palestine create a festive procession through the city. Our group stands on the edge of the square and sees it happening. The moment the patriarchs come to the square the atmosphere is suddenly shattered. Police units get into a fight with the youth of the fanfare. Drums and trumpets are flying through the air. It’s a clash between different communities. What happened?
Police officers are mostly Muslims and the scouts are Christians. With the presence of the Patriarch at the square the flame hits the pan. This incident characterizes the rising tensions in Bethlehem. By 1900, 90% of residents were Christian, in 1990 this was 60% and currently there are 10% Christian and 90% Muslim. It shows the sliding scale on which the Christians seem to be located.
Where initially the blame is addressed to the Israeli occupation, another conflict is looming as we stay here longer. One of our local guides says: ‘the Christians and the Muslims discrimate us and limit us in our movement. They do not treat our women in a right way. ”
Most Christians have bowed to pressure from the Muslim community and seek for fortune elsewhere in Europe, Latin America or US. The Christmas spirit that radiates from Manger Square, “All I Want for Christmas is Justice ‘, wrings more as ever with reality.
One of our local guides indicates the importance of the difference between being religious and faithful. Someone, for example may be religious, but that does not necessarily mean that a person believes. “First of all I am human, secondly I am Palestinian and then I am a Christian.” A humanistic approach based on human, seems to help to unite people from different religions. Why do people cherish religion here so much? And why is every space, public or private religiously labeled? A falafel tent with a picture of the last supper, a cross at the rear of the car, a woman with a scarf on the street …
Religion here is not a private matter, it is the cornerstone of society. Here in Bethlehem, religion provides you an individual, familial and social identity. Under the different religions many sub-identities occur as you have Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Christchurch Corpses and radical and moderate Muslims. These religions make up the social safety net of the Palestinians.
In The Netherlands, the separation between church and state is less than 200 years old and the depillarization happened not even 50 years ago. Previously the pillar, your own circle, of which you were a member, provided also in the Netherlands your social safety net.
When does the history of the Promised Land, with over 2000 years of fighting over religion, stop to repeat itself? Why continue to include and exclude others? We all bleed the same color. How nice would it be if the Christian and Muslim Palestinians shake hands, inviting the Israelis to create a circle and a single state, with space for everyone: men and women, Israeli and Palestinian, Christian, Jew, Muslim ,Christian and so many more! All that is needed is freedom of spirit. Give another the right to life. Merry Christmas!