‘If Christ were born today, he would be born under rubble, Israeli bombing’

All the Palestinian churches have cancelled Christmas festivities this year, and one church in Bethlehem shares its pain through iconography.

Closeup of Baby Jesus doll wrapped in Palestinian keffiyeh in the rubble manger
Bethlehem's Lutheran Church decided its Christmas nativity scene would reflect the reality of children living and being born in Palestine today [Monjed Jadou/Al Jazeera]

Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – The churches of Palestine have announced the cancellation of all festive Christmas celebrations in an expression of unity with Gaza and rejection of the ongoing aggression against Palestinians, limiting them to masses and prayers.

In Bethlehem, the Lutheran Church decided that its Christmas nativity scene would reflect the reality of children living and being born in Palestine today, placing the symbolic Baby Jesus in a manger of rubble and destruction.

It is a poignant representation of the suffering of Gaza’s children who find themselves buried under what is left of their own homes, victims of relentless Israeli bombardment.

“If Christ were to be born today,” Reverend Munther Isaac said, “he would be born under the rubble and Israeli shelling.

“This is a powerful message we send to the world celebrating the holidays.”

The true meaning of Christmas

For Isaac and other church leaders, this was a way to convey a message reflecting the birth of Christ, the messenger of justice, peace and dignity for humanity.

Christ was not born among the conquerors or those with military power, he said, but in an occupied country, which is what Palestine was 2,000 years ago.

“Bethlehem is sad and broken. We are all in pain about what is happening in Gaza, feeling helpless and overwhelmed by our inability to offer anything,” he said.

Reverend Munther Isaac kneels by the manger
‘Bethlehem is sad and broken,’ Reverend Munther Isaac said [Monjed Jadou/Al Jazeera]

Um Bishara, a mother of four, told Al Jazeera she was surprised to see the nativity scene with Baby Jesus in the rubble on Sunday.

Weeping, she had to sit down as the significance of the display hit her and dedicated her fervent prayers to the children of Gaza, praying that they find peace and safety.

A devout woman, Um Bishara hopes the prayers of the Holy Land’s faithful at Christmas can stop the pain and killing, replacing them with hope and peace.

Forgetting the Palestinian Christians

Two weeks ago, Isaac delivered a letter from the churches of Bethlehem, a city of significant religious importance, to the US administration in Washington, DC.

The letter urged US President Biden, the US Congress and heads of US churches to apply Christ’s message rejecting injustice and called for an end to the genocidal war in Gaza.

“Some people in the West forget the existence of Palestinian Christians. This war affects everything Palestinian, whether Muslim or Christian. It is our responsibility now to raise our voices as a nation to stop this war,” Isaac said.

Reverend Munther Isaac kneels by the manger
Isaac feels the West has forgotten the Christians of Palestine, where Christ was born [Monjed Jadou/Al Jazeera]

Continuing, he explained how saddened he was by several conversations he had in the US where he was told that Israel’s assault on Gaza was justified as self-defence. However, he added, the thousands of children and innocents killed daily, and the churches and hospitals being bombed do not figure in their calculus.

He knows the struggle to bring about change will be long because the Palestinian struggle is not only this war but a deeper struggle to affirm the legitimacy of Palestinian existence.

Anton Nassar, principal of the Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran School, said Bethlehem is sad and in pain this year but it has not lost hope.

He explained that while the nativity scene represents the reality of Palestinian lives, it also reflects hope as the infant Jesus is born in the rubble, a new light amidst pain.

He said, “We believe in the existence of hope and the hope of the birth of Jesus in the city of peace, the holy city.

“This is what is reflected in this painting placed in the church where we pray for a just peace in our country. We pray for an immediate cessation of the genocidal war on Gaza and for the people of Gaza to enjoy a peace built on justice.”

“Christmas is in the heart,” Nassar said. “We pray and invoke Jesus to be born again in our lives, our country, our churches, and our schools so that we can live in peace and stability and achieve our independent state with its capital, Jerusalem.”

Source: Al Jazeera