Earlier this week, the Christian world celebrated Christmas. Some years ago, the Jordanian government had rightly decided to list Christmas day as an official holiday, recognizing with due consideration the significance of the occasion as well as its cardinal religious meaning. The gesture further bonded the ideal relations that existed amongst Jordanian ethnic and religious communities.
Press reports have been describing the main celebrations at the Church of the Nativity in the occupied city of Bethlehem as they have been doing year after year. Also, Palestinian Christians, in particular, year after year, have been
voicing their resentment of the bitter reality of an occupation that has been depriving the city and its population of basic freedoms for 44 years in a row, while the Christian world remains virtually silent. Except for some bleats now and then when Israeli illegal occupation practices exceed all tolerable limits, European powers’ relations with Israel are hardly affected.
The cruel reality is that we also, in the Arab world, got used to living with the occupation. Arab states as well as the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel with its occupation of Arab land, and have been conducting normal business with the aggressor state while its occupation and its systematic colonization of Palestinian land continue relentlessly. Not once was ending the occupation first an Arab condition for negotiations with Israel or recognition of its existence.
One Israeli soldier fell captive in Arab hands five years ago. Until his release, few months ago, the whole world and most world media were fully mobilized to pressure the captors to release the Israeli soldier whose name was on every tongue. No statement, no comment by an official visitor to Israel, or related to any aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, was ever issued without condemning the Palestinian captors and demanding the release of Gilad Shalit.
Few comments expressed disgruntlement with the lopsided logic of demanding the release of a lone Israeli prisoner while ignoring more than 10,000 Palestinians for years and decades in Israeli prisons. This, indeed, is an expressive contrast, but the reality is much harder than just that. The comparison should be more comprehensive. It is not only 10,000 Palestinians that are captive in Israeli jails, but the whole of Palestine with its entire population.
The Israeli soldier was taken prisoner while on active duty manning an Israeli military post laying siege to one million and-a-half Palestinians in the densely populated Gaza district. And yet, the aggressor deserved unanimous world support while the victims of occupation and suppression remain indefinitely under occupation, deprived of their natural and basic rights, and actually threatened with eradication, while the world remains deadly indifferent to what befell the Palestinians. Imagine the world fury if the situation were reversed.
I always opposed the idea of emphasizing the sacred character of the city of Bethlehem to further validate the case against occupation, and accordingly demand its termination. No place has to be sacred in order to be protected from aggression or occupation. The freedom of any land and the people who live on it is always sacred and should not be subjected to injustice and undue restriction.
The same argument has regularly been used with respect to Jerusalem. The religious significance of the place is constantly mentioned to accentuate the ugliness of the occupation. The restriction of the freedom of worship by the occupying power of both Christians and Muslims in the holy city of Jerusalem is also often mentioned as an argument against the occupier. That may give the wrong implication that the occupation would be understandable if the place were not that holy, which is totally misleading and dangerous. The Israeli occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon is illegal, and it should go. The freedom of the people suffering the worst and longest occupation in modern history is certainly sacred.
But Israel is not just an occupier. Its occupation has been the first phase in a larger scheme towards final colonization and annexation of the entire land of Palestine. Failing to see it that way is sheer blindness. Failure to admit such a recognized reality is sheer cowardice and utter hypocrisy.
Banking on such worldwide hypocrisy and cowardice, Israel has been totally comfortable with its sustained aggression, continued construction of settlements, confiscation of Arab lands, demolition of houses after evacuating them of their lawful owners and building the apartheid wall to further strangle the lives of the occupied. Under such unprecedented circumstances, Israel has been quite comfortably enjoying the benefits of its criminality and lawlessness while being treated with respect and accepted, with the exception of the very mild and hesitant remarks when matters exceed all limits.
Israel’s apologists, supporters for that matter, justify their de facto endorsement of the occupation by referring to the so-called peace process. They simply pretend that so long as there are negotiations, there will be solutions for all the pending issues. That is why they continue to deny the failure of 20 years of futile and counterproductive negotiations that enabled the occupation to dig deeper and to create irreversible facts on the ground. They continue to deny such ongoing facts by insisting that the only course ahead is resumed negotiations, no matter what.
For the Christmas celebrations to serve the spiritual message they were originally intended to, Bethlehem should be liberated along with Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Arab territories. Both Muslims and Christians have for decades been subjected to massive restrictions with respect to their freedom of worship and access to holy places. That is in addition to the humiliating restrictions applied daily on the Palestinians’ normal activity and life, with the undisguised occupier intent to make it too difficult for them to stay on their historic land.
Neither world powers nor the United Nations Organization should stay silent about that, meekly succumbing to the fake claim that a “just” settlement is awaiting the conclusion of the negotiations.
Continued silence vis-à-vis the illegal Israeli occupation is an affront to civilization, as well as to international law. It is time this ongoing aggression be stopped and victims of oppression freed. It is shameful to keep the holiest Christian site in the peaceful city of Bethlehem under occupation forever.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on Dec. 28, 2011.