Today the Independent (24/12/2008) runs an article on Bethlehem 2008. As the town once again becomes the focus of attention for Christmas the story and today’s reality sit together uncomfortably. I have just been editing film I took on 31st January, 2004 which shows the Church of the Nativity, virtually empty apart from seven of us, City Councillors from Birmingham, UK. We were witness to the damage caused during the siege when families took refuge there two years earlier. Yasser Arafat had said to us that we should make sure that the damage to age old paintings was restored. However this is not the only threat as the condition of the roof is allowing rain water to run down the walls. The three churches with oversight of the church cannot, it seems, come to an agreement to organise repairs.
This year there is a webcaste from the church. The Guardian article points out that Greek Orthodox monks have banned Bush and Blair from the place for life because of their conduct of the Iraq war, so this will be their only opportunity to see these events.
Today the wall is crippling businesses, and rising tension between communities has resulted in Christians leaving Bethlehem and Palestine. However this year tourism is up and the hotels full once more, so some are holding on. There are stories of Muslims displacing Christians from their land. Some of these have themselves been displaced by the illegal settlers in places like Hebron. The Israeli occupation has no boundaries it seems.
Christmas in Bethlehem 2004-5
Report on Christmas Day 2008 (Haaretz)