Daniel Patrick Welch & – 2010-12-26 21:05:05
Oh Bethlehem A Christmas Carol for the 21st Century
Daniel Patrick Welch
O Bethlehem O Bethlehem
The stars look down on thee
As Nazareth reaps grief and death
From mountain, plain and sea
O Bethlehem a world bedecked
In seasonâ€™s peace and joy
Will still sit by as children die
And walls your heart destroy.
O Bethlehem, O Bethlehem
The prophets surely frown
A land in pain, a land in chains
As Abraham looks down
O Bethlehem your children sleep
In fear of tanks and guns
Do Moses, Christ, Mohammed weep
As we betray their sons?
O Bethlehem we seek that day
When Christmas bells ring true
When liberty and dignity
Belong at last to you
Can Bethlehem forgive a world
So callous and profane
And bring to pass a world at last
Where peace and justice reign.
Â© 2006 Daniel Patrick Welch. Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. danielpwelch.com.
The Little Town of Bethlehem in Occupied Territory and Music of the Season
Eileen Fleming / Op Ed News
(December 22, 2010) — The Associated Press recently reported:
“Tourism is one of the few areas of strong Israeli-Palestinian coordination. So far this year, 1.4 million tourists have visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus and 90,000 are expected during the Christmas season, a significant increase over last year, according to Israeli government figures. The numbers of visitors have been rising steadily in recent years.
“Christians have lost their majority: More than two-thirds of the 50,000 Palestinian residents are Muslim. Still, the town does its best to take advantage of its place in Christian history, going so far as to link the Christmas nativity story to the fact that it houses the West Bank’s best maternity facility — situated just half a mile from the Church of the Nativity which marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
“The hospital has been a Bethlehem institution since 1882. Political violence caused it to shut in 1985, but the Sovereign Order of Malta, a lay Roman Catholic order, reopened it as a maternity hospital in 1990. The old building hosts advanced facilities. One wing houses the Palestinian territories’ only intensive care unit for severely premature babies. Its 18 incubators often hold tiny babies born as much as three months early.” 
On July 27, 2007 I wrote from Bethlehem:
In a private West Bank pediatric hospital, Dr. Rafat-Allawi, of Bethlehem and four General Practice residents spoke to me for the forty-five minutes that was their break time in a 116 hour week that required them to be on call at forty hour stretches. The residents were paid $1, 400.00 a month, twice what physicians are paid in the public government hospitals.
Dr. Zafer Al-Qaisi, is from Jerusalem, Dr. Mohammad Abu Yousef and Dr. Sufyan Amro are both from Hebron and the lone female, Dr. Ninn Hafiri is from Beit Jala.
Dr. Yousef: “Three days ago, I had a critical cardiac patient that required transport to Israeli hospital, as we do not have the facilities or specialists here to treat critical cases. I had to apply for a permit; permission to travel with the child in the ambulance to Jerusalem, but was refused as the Israelis claimed I was a security risk; a threat to the state of Israel.”
Dr. Amro: “Yes, a threat with his stethoscope! I had a patient that was one week old with severe heart disease and needed to go to Jerusalem for emergency care. The mother, a paramedic and I traveled with the baby in the ambulance. At the checkpoint, the Israeli soldier; a female laughed and told the mother in broken Arabic, ‘You cannot pass through until you admit you are a prostitute.’ The mother did not understand what she was saying and why the soldiers were laughing and joking as her baby was blue, but she said what the soldier demanded and we finally were let through. I do not know what happened with that baby and this harassment at the checkpoints is not unusual. At the checkpoints it is usual to wait 3-4 hours and because Palestinian ambulances are not allowed through, we must hire Israeli ambulances for transport. They charge 1,800 shekels [$450.00] and the parents cannot even make that much money in a month of work.”
Dr. Allawi: “The other alternative from going to Jerusalem [a few miles away] is to take the children to Jordan for care, but that trip can take two days. Before the intifada, we were able to go to Jerusalem, but not since. Yesterday, I had a child in renal failure and there is no pediatric dialysis available in the West Bank. It took over twelve hours to locate a hospital in Israel to take him, but it was too late and he is dead.”
Dr. Amro: “There are no specialists in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority pays 80 million a year to Jordan and [Israeli] Hadassah hospitals for medical care. They could build hospitals in the West Bank and train specialists here!”
I asked did any of them have any faith in Tony Blair and the Quartet’s initiative to build Palestinian infrastructures, especially in the medical field. They all laughed and Dr. Allawi added, “We have a very weak Health Ministry and there is no state authority. In 1994, when the PA started, its aim was that Palestine would assume authority and responsibility for ourselves and the Israelis present a false front.”
When I commented that under International Law the occupiers are responsible for the needs and requirements of the occupied, the doctors laughed again, for it is the law of the jungle that rules the Holy Land.
Dr. Amro: “It’s a revolving door in the West Bank. We treat these babies as best we can, the parents don’t have the money to pay for the medicine and milk and the babies return to the hospital every ten days.”
Dr. Al-Qaisi: “We see lots of children with chronic metabolic disorders and there is no money to treat them properly. They should be on special milk for at least six months; we send them home with one bottle and a week’s worth of milk costs 230 shekels that the parents do not have, so they eat potatoes and tomatoes and come back here.”
The doctors see over one hundred children a day and admit a quarter of them. In the public hospitals in places like Hebron, the physicians will see five-hundred a day and admit a fourth of them also.
Dr. Al-Qaisi: “When we [resident doctors] graduate, we can’t find work in the West Bank; you graduate as a GP and you stay that way because there are no facilities to train in specialties.”
Dr. Amro: “The US Aid, the Fulbright Society; they all give food, drugs and money, but don’t support further education.”
Dr. Hafiri: “We need specialists here; this is a major disaster not having any in the West Bank.”
Dr. Amro: “The politicians live in a bubble. We live in the third world, and this is a heaven hospital, the government hospitals in the West Bank are hell! If we need blood for a child, we have to get it from Jerusalem and it takes five hours! So, we are supposed to predict six hours ahead, which child will require blood [stat: immediately].”
Dr. Allawi: “There is no plan, no aim to really change this situation. The world leaders are not serious about changing the situation and really building foundations. Some of us get the opportunity to go to the US and get specialized training, but they don’t come back here.”
But, Dr. Al-Qaisi is the exception to that rule. After the meeting, he offered me a ride back to Jerusalem in his ‘classic’ 18 year old Peugeot. He had come in on his day off and was on his way home after stopping at his brother’s store to pick up some eggs. When he pulled back out into the congested streets, he rear ended a taxi van and dented it slightly. After a few words with the owner of the cab and apology, we were on our way; no insurance info was exchanged and no cop was called; for in Palestine, the people give each other a break.
Dr. Al-Qaisi pulled out his USA citizenship and told me, “In 2004, I won a green card lottery. The USA grants 55,000 green cards a year and if you pass the security checks and all the other criteria, you can get American citizenship. I went to Toledo, Ohio for a while, but I came back home, because my family is the most important thing to me. I don’t care about making a lot of money, I want to be with my family.”
In February 2003, Claire and her family of fourteen -whose three story home and first floor business, adjacent to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem- were informed by the Palestinian Authority that The Wall would soon be coming to their neighborhood.
The family had moved into their comfortable dwelling in 1967, and would spend hours in their back yard garden with a view of open green space and watch pilgrims and tourists visit Rachel’s Tomb and welcome them into their gift shop. The family is now encircled on three sides by 25-30 feet high slabs of concrete which have imprisoned them from the rest of the Little Town of Bethlehem: which is Occupied Territory.
For months the family helplessly observed the preparation work all around them, and then one week before Christmas 2003, Claire’s children went to school and came home to discover that every view from every window was of the concrete monster.
Palestinians like Claire are imprisoned on the Israeli side of the wall and the once economically thriving and vibrant main street in Bethlehem is now a ghost town for stores and restaurants have been abandoned.
Rachel’s tomb and Claire’s tomb are divided by the concrete barrier which is topped by guard towers and patrolled by soldiers in battle gear.
Claire’s home is less than 500 yards inside Bethlehem, and it had been the closest shop to Rachel’s Tomb. Not long ago, multitudes of pilgrims and tourists would shop there, but today only the curious venture down the concrete walled pathway.
According to the Israeli government The Wall which has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague is for the security of Jewish worshipers at the shrine they revere as the Tomb of Rachel. Rachel was the wife of the biblical patriarch Jacob, who was the first to be named “Israel” for having wrestled and struggled with The Divine being.
On May 14, 1948 The Declaration of the establishment of Israel affirmed:
“One the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations.”
On February 21, 2003, Raanan Gissin, Spokesmen for Ariel Sharon was interviewed regarding The Wall which imprisoned Claire and her family, and he claimed, “The main purpose here is not to annex that land, but to provide security [and to ensure] freedom of access and freedom of religion.”
“Peace, Peace, Peace, they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 8:11
The Wall does not follow the Green Line so even the claims of security are nullified, for The Wall that imprisons Claire and her family divides Palestinians from Palestinians as it eviscerates their economy. Only Jews have freedom of access and religion, for Palestinian civilians are denied access to the holy sites.
The concrete wall and electronic fence has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side, effectively undermining one of the stated purposes which is the policy of Hafrada, which is Hebrew for separation of Israelis and Palestinians and that is: apartheid.
Dr. Jad Issac, the director general of the Applied Research Institute examined a satellite photograph of the area and stated, “Bethlehem is the Bethlehem ghetto now”rather than seeking to ensure freedom of religion, Israel was pushing Bethlehem’s Christian Palestinians to pack up and leave. About 360 Palestinians would be left on the Israeli side and once they get rid of the Christians, then they will label the rest as terrorists.”
Dr. Shmuel Berkovitz, an expert on Jerusalem and Jewish holy places, said The Wall effectively annexed Rachel’s Tomb to Jerusalem from Bethlehem “as a matter of technical separation, without an official declaration. Right now, you can’t see any romantic place there; you can see it only as a military position.”
Rachel’s Tomb is a small stone building with a dome, which was built during the Ottoman rule, but is now completely enclosed by the fortifications, built in 1996 and 1997.
During my first of three visits to Claire, she told me that, “Six years ago when the Israeli army blocked the main street in Bethlehem we hoped it would be temporary. We could not imagine anyone could block another human being and isolate them like they have done to us. A week before last Christmas my children went to school and when they returned they were faced with the concrete wall in front of them. They cried and cried and wanted to know how could such a thing be done to them? We are living in a tomb, we are buried alive. My children suffer and their mother and father can do nothing.
“In another ten years there will be no more Christians in Bethlehem if things do not change soon. Everyone is leaving, we need work, and we need to feed our children. Jesus was born here but we are dying. My children suffer, they are angry and shout because nobody comes to visit us anymore and the children must stay inside after school.
“We use to enjoy being out in our garden watching the people, the trees, the cars that would pass by, but now we only see concrete walls. Our lives have been stolen! Do Americans understand what happens to children when they are buried alive? We need a solution fast so that our children can live like American children! We want human rights! When Hillary Clinton visited Jerusalem and said the wall was not against the Palestinian people, she killed us too! Christians who do not care kill us too!
“My family use to go to Haifa on the weekends, we use to live a peaceful and comfortable life. But now our business is bankrupt and we are in prison for being Palestinians.”
During my last trip to visit Claire, in June 2009, I purchased one of the olive wood nativity sets that she and her family created to symbolize the reality of Bethlehem today. Claire explained, “It has a removable wall; we opened a door where Jesus Christ lays to light our future with hope.”