Tuesday, December 16

A Modern Christmas Story

(A little tough to follow, but so are the realities of this place...)

In Luke chapter 2 we are told of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth. It’s a familiar story this time of year, the travel of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. Thousands of travelers will come to Bethlehem this year to celebrate Christmas in the place where Christ was born some 2,000 years ago. However, the people who live here in Israel/Palestine who would be able to follow the same path that Jesus’ parents took so long ago are few in number.

There are two major groups of Israeli citizens in Israel; there are Israeli Jews, and there are Israeli Palestinians. Israeli Jews aren’t allowed to enter ‘Area A’. Israeli Palestinians are at the moment. The West Bank is currently divided into three separate ‘Areas’ as a result of the Oslo agreements from 1993. Area A is where the Palestinian government has full security and civil (water, electric, utilities, etc.) control. Area B, where Palestinians have civil control and Israel has ultimate security control. And Area C, where Israel has civil and security control. Driving through the West Bank there are signs indicating Area A as being illegal for entry by Israeli citizens. This is generally only applied to Israeli Jewish citizens, and Palestinians that have Israeli IDs are allowed to cross checkpoints and enter Area A. Looking at a map, one can see that the West Bank is far from being mainly Area A. In fact, the West Bank currently looks like Swiss cheese, with large Palestinian population centers, like Ramallah, Nablus, and Bethlehem designated as Area A, and most of the rest of the land Areas B or C.

So, Israeli Palestinians would be able to go from Nazareth (an Israeli town whose population is mainly ethnically Palestinian) to Bethlehem (‘Area A’, a Palestinian town whose population is almost exclusively ethnically Palestinian). Who else would be able to make the trip? Well, Palestinians born in the West Bank are issued West Bank IDs by the Israeli government. Palestinians with West Bank IDs aren’t allowed to enter into Israel proper (Tel Aviv, Nazareth, anywhere in the Galilee, or Jerusalem) without special permission. Often our Christian friends and neighbors are given this permission from the Israeli government at Christmas or Easter; it’s rare for our Muslim friends and neighbors to get this permission. So any Palestinian born in the West Bank is out, unless they’re granted special permission.

There’s a third type of ID that some Palestinians have (Just to review, so far we’ve got Israeli Palestinians, who are Israeli citizens, and West Bank Palestinians. In Area A, West Bank Palestinians live under Palestinian law. In Areas B and C, they are governed by an Israeli military authority, but have no vote in Israeli elections or any chance of getting Israeli citizenship.). The third type of ID that some Palestinians have is called a ‘Jerusalem ID.’ Palestinians born in Jerusalem have the option of taking Israeli citizenship or taking a Jerusalem ID. A Jerusalem ID is different from a West Bank ID. Palestinians with a Jerusalem ID have freedom of movement both in Israel and in the West Bank. Generally, Palestinians from Jerusalem don’t want to take Israeli citizenship as a way of protesting what they view to be Israeli occupation of east Jerusalem. That’s three possible IDs that a Palestinian born in Israel/Palestine could carry: an Israeli ID (if s/he holds Israeli citizenship), a West Bank ID, or a Jerusalem ID.

So who would be able to make the same trip today that Joseph and Mary made over 2,000 years ago? Well, Israeli Jews wouldn’t be allowed to enter Bethlehem today (being forbidden by the Israeli government out of concern for individuals’ safety). Israeli Palestinians are currently allowed to enter Area A. Palestinians with West Bank IDs could get to Bethlehem, but they’re not allowed to places like Nazareth unless they’re granted permission from the Israeli government. Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs could make the trip since they’re allowed to live in Israel and allowed to enter the West Bank. There’s a whole other category of people we haven’t talked about yet though, one that Jesus himself would be included in: Jews born in the West Bank.

Jews born in Areas B or C qualify as Israeli citizens (since Bethlehem is Area A, I don’t know how Jesus would be categorized today). This is one of the biggest problems we have with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Israeli Jewish citizens live in the West Bank and live under Israeli civil law. They can vote in Israeli elections and use the Israeli airport in Tel Aviv. Palestinians born in the same place are ruled by Israeli military instead of civil law and have to travel to Amman when they want to fly.

Seeking justice in this part of the world often involves working not for something extreme, liberal, or radical. Often it involves asking for basic, simple things: the application of law equally to all people regardless of race or religion. Asking Israel to take practical steps as regards the West Bank: make Israeli citizens leave and pull out of the area militarily, or annex the land and make all the people living there citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. Calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank is often viewed as radical or extreme, but looking at modern day conditions in light of the Christmas story helps us see the situation for what it really is: an absurd arrangement that in the end isn’t really good for anyone, be they Jew, Christian, or Muslim.

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