From Mazin Qumsiyeh
I have spent 26 Christmases in our homeland but never had a more meaningful one than this one. In the traditional 12 days of the holiday season, we finished with class work at Bethlehem University. My masters' students and my undergraduate students did very well throughout the semester as they evolved their critical thinking and analytical skills and developed admirable self-confidence. Then the holidays came and with them came people from around the world to join in our struggle for freedom. In particular 73 French activists joined with others to attend and participate in a number of direct actions that challenge the colonial structure. Starting on 22-23 December in Jerusalem, the group participated in direct action and other events in Shaikh Jarrah, Silwan, and ethnically cleansed villages behind the green line. After two nights in Jerusalem focusing on the increased pressures to isolate and destroy life for the remaining inhabitants of this Palestinian city, the activists were to come to Al-Walaja village (a village that suffers from colonial settlement activities on the small percentage of its land that remains after Israel took over 75%). The Israeli apartheid army tried in vain to prevent the event from happening from preventing a bus company from transporting activists to blocking the road to the village to threatening people in the village. Strong will and creative on-the-spot triumphed maneuvers frustrated the army's maneuver and all did in through other means to hold a huge demonstration of at least 200 people (Palestinians and Internationals including some Israelis). Not allowing empty buses to come to pick the demonstrators, we still managed to get everyone out safely to go the manger square for the traditional Christmas procession. With over 50 volunteers wearing bright yellow vests (Handala and Free Palestine prominently printed on them), we distributed over 2000 'Christmas Cards' to the Christian pilgrims. The cards referred to the wish for peace with justice and linked to the Kairos document, a call by Palestinian Christians issued a year ago (see http://www.kairospalestine.ps)
Later in the afternoon, we traveled to Beit Jala where we shared putting-up a Christmas tree at the home of Abu Michel, a Christian whose land was taken over for the apartheid wall. Then onto Aida refugee camp for a meaningful Christmas Eve with refugees. Christmas day was spent mostly in Hebron old city including in a demonstration against the racist settlers who continue to attempt to destroy the old city. The occupation authorities used tear gas and stun grenades and kidnapped two internationals (French and a Scottish, both released later at night). Some Internationals joined us in the candle light march in the Shepherds' field that evening (over 2000 attended, a marvelous event; Above is a video of it
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34HiwC75MCU ). The next morning, activists went to Qalandia checkpoint and protested the Israeli army preventing Palestinians from entering Jerusalem. A Palestinian and nine French activists were detained and many were beaten and injured (video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCpB54gcvUc ). That afternoon, a tree planting event near the wall in Bil'in was met with Israeli tear gas and stun grenades (video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6uqb9ZuuCY ).
Later in the evening, we had an evening of camaraderie and solidarity despite attempts to politicize the event by some. The next day, the delegation visited Nablus (see photos at
http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article5724 ) and on the way back
stopped by Beitil and had a demonstration against the closure of roads
inside the west bank to Palestinian travel (photos at http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article5721 ). Two were detained and several injuries were reported due to the Israeli assault on the peaceful demonstration. All detained in these various demonstrations were mistreated
but were eventually released.
I urge all to come visit us and see what is happening in the "little town of Bethlehem": 170,000 people nearly half of them are refugees crowded into 13% of the original district size of Bethlehem and surrounded by 27 ft high walls and electrified fences. Many people describe it as a Ghetto or a Bantustan (and the Israeli government calls such remaining Palestinian areas in the Negev and elsewhere as concentration areas). But on the positive side, the pressure of the occupation and the test of us make us better human beings. The hundreds of internationals that participated in these activities told us how honored and leased they were by having shared a meaningful holiday season with us. Energized, we now planned much bigger activities for this summer (stay tuned). Similarly, the Palestinians who participated in
the demonstrations or who even simply hosted internationals in their homes or who even saw us on TV or read about us in newspapers all felt a sense of hope and empowerment. For me personally, having a house full of internationals sleeping everywhere eating together, working together, being attacked by occupation authorities together was the best Christmas gift. Come to think of it, that is what the message of that prince of peace born over two millennia years ago was about. We are the descendents of those first believing Shepherds who saw the star and believed in Jesus. Jesus born in a country called Palestine was thus Palestinian by birth but when he grew up he also challenged a Jewish ruler (Herod) put in place by a Western government. History does repeat itself although with some variation but the message of love and peace will eventually triumph. This Christmas from here din the Shepherds' field just down the hill from the Church of Nativity, we sang "this in my heart, I do believe.we shall overcome someday" .. Merry Christmas. by Mazin Qumsiyeh