How Still We See Thee Lie

How Still We See Thee Lie

Palestinian Christians and Muslims protest during the Christmas season, in 2014, in Bethlehem.

Photo: Mussa Qawasama (2014).

Background & Narrative

For me, Advent 2014 provided a sort of coming-out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (See: "For Palestinians, an Advent #FAIL.") During the Christmas season that year, I was strongly motivated to give voice to Palestinian stories through a series called Postcards from Palestine.

Personally, I wanted to come closer to Palestinian humanity. I wanted to bump up against it. I wanted to face the reality of individual Palestinians experiencing what seems like permanent exile and hopeless expectation.

I had happened upon these stories by way of Kenize Mourad, a journalist and writer. Her personal encounters with Palestinians in 2002 eventually became the pages of Our Sacred Land: Voices of the Palestine-Israeli Conflict (2004).

Now, as another Christmas comes, so too the news that the UN Security Council has censured Israel for its continued settlement construction in Palestinian territories. Officially, the US abstained from the vote. But in arguing that settlements actually work against Israel's security, Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, remarked, "One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict."

A wood carver in Bethlehem works on the eyes of a nativity figurine.

Photo: Ahmed Mazhar (2012).

On Christmas Eve 2016, I stood singing the usual liturgical hymns with my family. Having moved to Charlottesville and acclimated to All Souls, we joined our church community on the steps outside The Haven, a day shelter for the homeless.

Come to Bethlehem and see, the hymn writer urged as we sang along.

But the visual isn't exactly pretty, I thought.

Since 1967, the little town of Jesus's birth, in Palestine, has been under an increasingly aggressive and rights-restrictive Israeli military occupation. In fact, many Christians in the US don't even see it. Or maybe we refuse to see it.

Either way, a very familiar Christmas lyric had become extremely unsettling. In that sing-song moment, on the night celebrating the coming of Jesus, I realized that I could not stand there and use my voice to belt out that rousing lyric. At least—not without also using my voice to speak out.

To arouse justice and peace.

Here, then, are a few postcards from Bethlehem.


Star-Lit

Interminable hostility. Unyielding conflict. Relentless violence.

Where is the guiding star in such a bleak midwinter?

And where are the people following this star?

  A view to Manger Square in Bethlehem.    Photo: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA (2015).

A view to Manger Square in Bethlehem.

Photo: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA (2015).


Sad Tidings of No Joy

St. Luke had assured me that there would be glad tidings of great joy for all the people.

But I see walls and barriers, isolation and inferiority, for miles and miles.

Israel's 440-mile wall through the West Bank cuts off Bethlehem.


Santa's Criteria

Who is naughty, and who is nice?

Perpetuated myths continue to frame a historically and morally complex story.

Palestinian Christians and Muslims protest during the Christmas season, in 2014, in Bethlehem.

Photo: Mussa Qawasama (2014).


We Know Not What We Sing

I hear a Christ-follower singing that all oppression will cease.

Someone else is singing that all our troubles will be out of sight.

But here, both songs are quite difficult to hear.

Palestinian activists decorate a sparse Christmas tree on Manger Square in Bethlehem with empty tear-gas canisters and stun grenades reportedly used on civilians by the Israeli military. 


Each Other

Injustice, suffering, and pain.

Was he born into this to save us from this?

So that we might see how to save each other from this?

Shelves of crosses line a shop near Manger Square in Bethlehem.

Photo: Harriet Salem / VICE News (2015).


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A Day By Any Other Name

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