The challenging modern realities of Christ’s birthplace

The wall that surrounds Bethlehem
The wall that surrounds Bethlehem

In this piece written for the ‘Journal’, Carrigans native and former St Columb’s College pupil Aaron Callaghan, who is now based in Belfast, shares his experiences and reflections of a recent trip to Israel and Palestine, including a visit to the birthplace of Christ, Bethlehem.

After returning from Bethlehem after a week long visit to Palestine and Israel, I can say the town is not the idyllic birth place of Jesus I had in my mind pre-trip.

Aaron Callaghan

Aaron Callaghan

In reality a wall surrounds the city. Water and power are controlled to create constant shortage. The population of the city are being treated inhumanely.

I thought the stable didn’t sound quite so bad after seeing modern day Bethlehem.

The Palestinian people are living a nightmare, treated as second class citizens as the state of Israel slowly grabs more and more land under the pretence of ‘security’.

The city is surrounded by a wall which Palestinians must transit through in order to work in Jerusalem (one of the occupied territories).

This involves being herded through a ‘terminal’ like animals and then being subjected to verbal abuse at the hands of soldiers maybe no older than 18 years of age. Entry will then only be permitted to the lucky few, i.e. those who have permits and manage to get the soldiers in a good mood.

This example is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what is happening to the Palestinian people.

As the settlements grow more and more Palestinians are being forced from their land or being made to travel a journey of one hour to reach their land where five minutes would have sufficed in the past due to the security wall.

Their economy is being suffocated like a snake constricts its prey by making it almost impossible to get supplies through the Israeli ports, and when they do come in it’s always months late and outrageously over-priced.

This is a systematic attack on the Palestinian people which has the goal of removing (those that have already not been moved) them from their land (well, what’s left of it) in order to create a larger Israeli state.

The settlements being built are of course illegal under International Law however it seems that the government of Israel are allowed to act with impunity in these matters and as the US presidential election draws nearer Palestine doesn’t seem to be hearing quite so many friendly words from Mr. Obama.

At least hope exists with the leader of the Middle-East Quartet, Tony Blair.

Oh no, I forgot he was involved in starting two wars in the region and is seen as the devil incarnate.

With enemies as powerful as these, because that is what they are to the Palestinians, it is hard to see a favourable outcome for the people of Palestine.

It is no wonder that the more extreme elements like Hamas and Fatah are receiving support when help seems to be in such short supply.

Of course Hamas is a terrorist organisation according to the west however I will have to look up the definition in the dictionary as I’m sure the Israeli, UK and US militaries will fall under these categories.

It seems to be to be McCarthyism all over again when being called a communist was enough to send you to jail. It’s a good job that they’re not communists in Palestine or else they definitely would not stand a chance.

Peaceful protests are not even allowed to go ahead without the inevitable presence of tear-gas and rubber bullets.

Having been to the protest in Belen, it is disgraceful that they are allowed to do this to people who are protesting at the illegal occupation of their land (no bias here, this is under International Law remember) in a peaceful manner.

I was reading that only last week a man was killed when a tear-gas canister was shot at him out of the back of a jeep from about 30 metres away.

This is murder but it will no doubt be written off as the army just providing a secure environment against these terrorists armed with their, wait for it, rocks.

I thought that there existed rules of engagement around these matters but what else should we expect from a force who used white phosphorous against the people of Gaza.

The unfortunate thing about this is that meeting Israeli’s on the trip, and a few on my current travels none of them can seem to get over the issue that the military is really important and essential to the survival of Israel.

They believe that the Palestinians cannot be trusted to live in society with them.

But maybe if I was forced to join the army when I was eighteen for a minimum of three years then it would be interesting to see where my own views would lie.

The Palestinian situation seems to be the elephant in the room for Israel and until more Israelis stand up for the the rights of the Palestinians then the occupation will continue unopposed.

The child kidnappings, human shields, house evictions when the Israeli army wants a base, internment of prisoners without trial are to name but a few more of the atrocities visited upon this people.

It is really angering to see and hear about this from people who it effects every day. When I as a foreign tourist can move more freely than the natives something is seriously wrong.

An era of neo-colonism is in full swing here and it’s difficult to imagine how it can be stopped, unless the outside world starts to act with much more fervour and determination.

As Gandhi said: “In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good”.

This can be no more true than in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict today. I urge you to look at what you can do in order to stop this tragedy continuing.