Sunday, December 24

MCC Palestine Update: Advent Greetings from the Holy Land! (4 of 4)

MCC Palestine Update: Advent Greetings from the Holy Land! (4 of 4)

24 December 2006

Dear Friends,

For this final Sunday of Advent, here is the fourth of a series of four Advent reflection sent by a group of international church workers living and working in Palestine/Israel. Attached is this letter in the form of a bulletin insert that you can feel free to use in your community. Please visit for more information on MCUSA’s campaign and for Advent reflections and other Christmas ideas from MCC.

The Palestine Update will resume in its normal form following the holiday season. At this point, we also hope to have the Palestine Update address book tightened up. Thanks to you all who have responded to the past two updates indicating your interest in receiving these updates. Again, if you have not indicated to us by sending your name and the current email address you would like the Palestine Update sent to (or regular updates from MCC Iraq Program Coordinator Ed Nyce), please do so by responding to this email.

Peace to you all,

Timothy Seidel

Christi and Timothy Seidel
Peace Development Workers
Mennonite Central Committee - Palestine

Advent Greetings from the Holy Land!

Experiencing Advent in a place such as this is truly unique! It carries with it incredible feelings of closeness as one visits those sites, such as the Church of the Nativity, that hold so much meaning and that played a role of their own in the Christmas story. Yet at the same time, those feelings of closeness are easily swallowed up by a sense of distance, of separation, of forsakenness as one surveys the situation here.

Not too long ago, an Israeli incursion into the town of Bethlehem very near to the Church of the Nativity saw Israeli soldiers raiding and occupying the home of the Zoughbi family. The Zoughbis are a Christian family who have been a part of the Bethlehem community for centuries. The parents were not at home when the Israeli soldiers arrived, but their four children—ages 14, 12, 11, and 9—were. Because the street to their home was blocked off, they (the parents) were not allowed to return home to be with their children. They had to wait almost seven hours before the Israeli soldiers left, all the while listening to loud explosions and gunfire and seeing tear gas fired by the Israeli soldiers. All that they could do was to talk by telephone with their children, who were sitting in their home away from all the windows and doors, feeling very frightened and alone.

About a dozen soldiers had broken into the apartment above where the Zoughbi children were, occupying it as a place from which to fire upon a home behind the Zoughbi’s house. A young man who was wanted by the Israeli military lived in this house, and the Israeli incursion was meant to find and abduct this young man. The soldiers did eventually abduct him, after a bulldozer was sent to his family’s home with the threat of demolishing it if he did not surrender—a common practice used by the Israeli military. This young man became one of the roughly 10,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who remain in Israeli prisons, often times without due process of law.

At around 10:00 p.m. that night, the soldiers left the Zoughbi’s building, leaving furniture in this apartment overturned, clothes and bed sheets thrown around, a broken door and the windows dismantled, and dirt and gun shell casings everywhere.

Though the Zoughbi children were not harmed, one young boy of 13, Mohammad Ali Showria, was shot by an Israeli soldier near the Church of the Nativity and died shortly afterwards of his wounds. Several other Palestinians were seriously injured.

One can imagine how traumatizing this experience was for these children. When the parents returned home, one of the first things the children said to them was “when can we move away from here?” Unfortunately, this trauma is all-too-common amongst children in the Occupied Territories and has contributed to a growing emigration.

Palestinian Christians, like their Muslim brothers and sisters, have experienced a long history of dispossession and have not been immune to Israeli policies of occupation and discrimination. If anything, they have felt more strongly the feelings of forsakenness, knowing full well that many Christians in North America and Europe support without question the State of Israel in its oppression of their people. Daily experiences of incursions such as this, of humiliation at checkpoints, of land confiscation to make way for the separation barrier, the illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory, unemployment, poverty, and a sense of hopelessness for a better future for their children have all contributed to this growing emigration of Palestinian Christians from the historical land of Palestine.

For the Palestinian Christians of Bethlehem, for example, traveling the six-mile distance to Jerusalem’s Old City is impossible without special permission. Roughly half of Palestinian Christians living in the Occupied Territories are residents of Bethlehem. Church leaders estimate that over 2,000 Christians have emigrated from the Bethlehem area since September 2000, representing a decline of more than nine percent of Bethlehem’s total Christian population. [1]

Rev. Alex Awad, Palestinian pastor of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church, reminds us that “Palestinian Christians have existed in the Holy Land since the day of Pentecost and have kept the torch of Christianity burning faithfully for the past two thousand years.” The erosion of Christianity in her birthplace, he poignantly observes “is a loss for the body of Christ everywhere. Can we imagine the Holy Land devoid of the Christian presence and a church which has been a faithful witness for Christ since the day the church was born?” [2]

In this time of Advent—this time of preparation, hope, and expectation for new realities and new creations—we pray this difficult story finds each of you well, rejoicing in the Lord, and living for one another in new and creative ways. We pray that the voices of our Palestinian sisters and brothers that are so often dismissed, silenced, and dehumanized speak loudly to us this Advent season, providing both a meaning and a challenge for our celebration of the incarnational presence of “God with us” this Christmas.

The glory of the Lord has been revealed. How will we respond?

Grace and Peace,

Ecumenical Advisory Group*

*This is the final in a series of four Advent reflections lifting up the voices of people living in the land of Jesus’ birth, sent from the Ecumenical Advisory Group—a group of international church workers living and working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

[1] For more on these conditions in Bethlehem, see the report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the Special Coordinator for the Peace Process in the Middle East (UNSCO), “Costs of Conflict: The Changing Face of Bethlehem” (December 2004); online at:

[2] Read all of Rev. Awad’s article in “Christian Zionism and Peace in the Holy Land,” MCC Peace Office Newsletter 35/3 (July-September 2005); online at:


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