As I sit down to write this Christmas  newsletter, I cannot help but reflect on last Christmas, which I spent in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. At the current time, Ramallah is sealed off by the Israeli military. . . .
I hear the news, . . . but I know from my experience living in Ramallah for the past two years that I cannot trust anything I hear. I know how to interpret the Israeli news in order to decipher what really occurred in "Judea and Samaria" that day, and I have learned the euphemisms and language swapping that occurs. Most Westerners who hear these clips, however, have not had my experiences and do not know the reality of the situation. Not knowing otherwise, they believe the falsehoods, and the vicious cycle continues.
. . . Since I am living in Amman, I have the dubious privilege of hearing the latest reports of casualties, human rights abuses, and attacks by settlers. When I see the headlines in the international news or look at the Internet webpages, what I do not see is even more disturbing than the inaccurate reports I hear. There is a lack of press coverage regarding the situation, and stories which are written about the present struggle are edited down or kept from the presses altogether. . . .
I wrote last year about the discrepancy between the lyrics of Christmas hymns and the reality of life in the Holy Land. This year I imagine the contrast is even greater than before. The light of the star would be obscured by the flash of Israeli rockets and fire from tanks encircling the Palestinian cities, including Bethlehem. The wise men would be diverted from their path by settlers attacking their caravan, the shepherds’ land would have been confiscated, and they would therefore not be on the hillside to hear the angels. Moreover, Mary and Joseph would not have been allowed into Bethlehem, being stopped by the Israeli border guards for holding improper IDs. Even if Joseph held a 500-year document proving ownership of property within Bethlehem, his request to enter would be denied. Such is the contemporary life of the Palestinian people.
My feelings from this side of the river are tumultuous. I am grateful that I am not in the midst of the gunfire, but feel guilty because I am not. I am worried for my friends and students who remain under a constant barrage and who are trapped within the city limits. I hate to listen to the news, knowing it will only bring more sad stories and inaccurate reporting, but feel compelled to follow the latest bulletin. If I don’t listen, how can I spread the story of their plight? If all, like the majority of citizens in Western democracies, turn a blind eye to the current violation of human rights, who will come to the aid of the Palestinians?
Although I may be physically located in Amman, Jordan, my heart is on the other side of the river, and my thoughts and prayers are with those I know who remain behind. . . .
I always find this time of year difficult. The short days and long nights, the onset of the cold, and distance from family at Thanksgiving and Christmas makes one lose perspective and wax nostalgic. I am grateful for F(f)riends and family members who continue to reach out and remind me that although I am geographically distant, I remain in their hearts, where they continue to hold me in the Light. If only there were equal numbers of people holding each Palestinian and Israeli in the Light, perhaps the situation would change.
As you celebrate Christmas, may you remember the current situation in the land of Jesus’ birth and reflect on the discrepancy between his message and the reality of what is now occurring. With the dawn of the new year, may you recommit yourself to a life dedicated to peace, equality, and social justice.