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Warm blessings to all – also to those who differ from me

Whether you are non-religious, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or from another faith… please allow me to share with you wishes for goodness, inclusivity, compassion, peace and dignity in this festive time.

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It is true, as Christians we often fail to live these values. But Christmas reminds us of what really matters in life – human dignity, peace, love and life for all. May we remember that we are co-creators of in our lives. How we live matters. Our thoughts and actions participate in the shaping of our realities. May we all experience more justice, peace and love in our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nativity Church on Manger Square in Bethlehem was built over the place believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

I planned to be in Bethlehem this year for the illuminating of the gigantic Christmas tree on Manger Square, but as you can read in another post, I was denied entry by Israel. I share with you some links I found on the internet:

kersboom 2Click here for Reuters: “We need the solidarity of the world.”

Christmas tree stands in the courtyard of the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem after the lighting ceremonyClick here for a short, but great Youtube clip taken by former EAPPI member Hildegard Lenz.

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Christmas 2013 – is it over?

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My images of a newborn child in a modest manger on a silent night are shattered.

This despite the sounds of carols, the aroma of home-baked cookies, my colourful Christmas tree and the joy of dear ones that uplift my being. My senses want me to believe that all is well and that Bethlehem is a place of holiness….

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Alas, no longer can I be so naive to view Bethlehem only as a place of wonderment.

2013 years later the Israeli Wall (an illegal one, higher and longer than the one in Berlin during the Cold War) cuts through the city.

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Houses (and just about everything else) are demolished there and in East Jerusalem, in Jericho and in many other places in the West Bank (also illegally, of course).

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Tourists flock to these cities believing that they are in Israel…..  but they are ignorant of the Living Stones – the People of Palestine – many who are the descendants of the first Christians.

Gaza remain under siege, children are still being killed by Israel and the living conditions are beyond terrible. Millions of Palestinian refugees may not return home for holy days, for family visits, to unlock their front doors or for any other reason. Tourists may continue to go there, of course.  And Israeli settlers thrive in occupied Palestine (once more, illegally).

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As I decorated my tree with trinkets from the Netherlands, from Germany, China, South Africa and Palestine at the end of 2013, I listened to Christmas carols differently. How can it be that I have sung these lyrics all my life without hearing how they perpetuate the continuing of injustices if we confuse the modern nation-state with the Biblical entity of Israel? How could I have been so insensitive to hail Israel and its newborn King without a thought for the immense suffering of the Palestinians at the hand of its oppressor, Israel, who is funded by a world power (the USA)?  What has been redeemed and what is there to celebrate if we perpetuate an illegal and inhumane oppression through our carols, our ignorance and our silence?

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Bishop Zipho Shiwa recently led the sermon at former President Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu. He was one of the group of twelve South African church leaders who visited Palestine in December 2012.

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On their return home this delegation declared that entering occupied Palestine “felt like walking into another apartheid ambush”. Israel’s occupation of Palestine must end…. and there will still be a journey ahead.

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As South Africans we may no longer have apartheid, but we know all too well that we all still suffer from the injustices created under the oppressive system.  Our task in South Africa is not complete.

My 2000-year old, almost romantic images of Christ’s birth are replaced by my increased yearning for an inclusive peace on earth that honors the dignity of all.  This at least, is how I understand Christ’s message. What would Jesus (who was a Palestinian!) do?  Celebrate the past by ignoring the present? We need to problematize the concepts of “Bethlehem”, “King of Israel”, “Jerusalem”, etc. so that we do not hail the events of more than 2000 years ago by ignoring what happens in Palestine today. And perhaps we need to re-look our hymns, or at the very least, resist simplified interpretations of their words.

The joy of Christmas will fill every fibre in my being when we – people from different traditions and cultures – co-create a world where we do not diminish one another or engage carelessly with our planet.

May we allow all of ourselves to be free, in peace and joyful. May we know what it feels like to experience the blessings of the Christmas message every day of the year – forever and ever.

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South Africans: Christmas Message from Bethlehem

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As we listened to the different sides of the stories shared by Christians, Muslims, Jews, political representatives, NGOs, soldiers, and ordinary local people concerning the situation in Palestine-Israel we were starkly reminded, in this time of Advent, that the Christ-child came to bring a message of peace and justice on earth.

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We were deeply grieved and appalled that this is not the situation in this Holy Land of God and are concerned that the integrity and credibility of a message of inclusivity and human dignity as expressed in the Gospel is at stake. However we were encouraged by the initiatives undertaken, by Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to find peaceful solutions to the problems of Palestine and Israel.

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We were a group of leaders of various churches and church organizations (including women and youth) in South Africa gathered in Bethlehem in Palestine from 2-9 December 2012. our visit was a response to the call of Palestinian Christians to “come and see” for ourselves.

Mindful of our own history and the ongoing need for healing, reconciliation and peace we were able to identify and engage with certain experiences in a deeply meaningful and personal way. We also recognised with sadness our own sense of judgments and complicity as Christians in addressing the realities of God’s people in this part of the world; often out of ignorance and due to misleading information and untested beliefs. It is for these reasons that we wish to humbly share our experience with the South African public and, Christians in particular, during this journey with our friends in Palestine and Israel.

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In our days in Palestine and Israel we saw the following for ourselves:

  • The infrastructure built to reinforce an apartheid system, for example separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis and especially the Wall which brings limited security to Israelis but ultimately steals land, oppresses, and separates Israelis and Palestinians from each other.
  • The different kinds of checkpoints and blockages and how they humiliate, harass and oppress Palestinians psychologically, politically and economically. We were deeply alarmed that foreigners were accorded a far easier passage of travel from one place to another than the Palestinians in their own land.

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  • Young Israeli soldiers being used to uphold the military occupation of Palestine which also included some former South African young Jews with whom we engaged.

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  • Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories in direct violation of international law depriving Palestinians of land, natural resources and freedom.

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  • Christians working together in addressing the issues of the occupation which is evident in the Kairos Palestine initiative and in their broad involvement in non-violent resistance to the occupation.

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  • Christians and Muslims praying and working together to end the occupation.
  • The destruction and demolition of homes inter alia incited by the intention to dispossess Palestinians of their land resulting in a broader picture of ethnic cleansing.

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  • The economic impact of the occupation as seen in the following: businesses abandoned because of the wall and blockages, the doors of shops wielded and closed, olive fields destroyed, restrictions on movement and the emergence of ghost towns in what used to be thriving communities.

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  • How believers are restricted and or prohibited from worshiping and visiting places of religious importance to them.

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  • Water tanks on the roofs of Palestinian home as evidence of restrictions on the use and provision of their water whilst this was noticeably absent from homes in the Israeli settlements.

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  • In spite of the resentment and even hatred we saw signs of hope, resilience and tenacity of the human spirit in the face of injustice and oppression and commitment to a just peace. In this regard the message of love also for the enemy albeit expressed in non-violent resistance in the Kairos document is a sterling example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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  • The arrogance, blindness, insensitivity, self-destruction, and the illusions of security in the use of military might.

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We wish to reiterate that our intention is not to take sides with the Palestinians or Israeli Jews or to make statements of judgment but to focus on the perspective of justice and to report on what we have heard and seen from the many different people and sources we have encountered with this in mind.

This matter is not about Jews versus Muslims, or Muslims versus Christians, or any religious group versus any other. Not at all.  It is about justice whilst also being sensitive to the injury of self-destruction by those who oppress and destroy in violation of international law.

In this time of Advent we are reminded again that we want to align our consciousness, our beliefs and our actions with what our respective faith traditions teach us about peace, love, reconciliation and justice on earth. In Christianity, we try to follow the example set by Jesus. We ask our fellow brothers and sisters to reflect on his example in these weeks leading up to Christmas.

Santa in distress, three wise men arrested


FROM BETHLEHEM, in the occupied territories of Palestine…
read a brilliant Christmas parody issued by BDS South Africa,

 Santa in Distress, Three Wise Men Arrested (24 Dec 2011)

Is the Christmas Star still shining?

Or is it mourning
over the little town of Bethlehem?

In Bethlehem today people are fenced in

behind a concrete wall
that cuts across fields and olive groves,
separating people from schools,
hospitals and work places.
In Bethlehem today Mary must give birth
at a military checkpoint,
shepherds cannot reach the stable,
the three Wise Men, gifts in hands,
stand helpless before the wall.
In Bethlehem today the star has vanished
where angels sang

hilltops are scarred by
illegal houses
Yet while we search
the darkness in vain
The angels’ message is still
Peace on Earth
So let us listen
Let us stand up and act.

Peace and Justice for Palestine.

(Ulrike Vestring 2009)