While singing O’ Little Town of Bethlehem this Christmas, we should first think of Jesus and tumultuous world he was soon thrust into. But a second thought is of the actual town of Bethlehem today.
Now that brings up a whole host of issues. Bethlehem is in the West Bank, an area occupied by Israel after the Six Day War. It’s a town populated by Palestinians who have had a rough lot in life.
My own perspective on Israel and the Palestinians has been informed of late by a book caled Leap of Faith, the memoir of Queen Noor of Jordan. First of all, King Hussein sounds like he was a real character with an ever present sense of humor. Secondly though, Noor shares the Arab perspective on the Palestinian conflict.
First of all I’d like to toss in my own two cents. While I have sympathy for the loss of the Palestinians and their true lack of a leadership committed to a peaceful resolution for much of their history (let’s not forget that Arafat was a terrorist first), my view for a while went something like this: the Arabs started a war . . . they lost . . . that’s all there is to it. Of course Israel has done plenty to start wars, such as the Six Day War and even the recent conflict with lebanon, but the 1948 war always seemed fairly cut and dry to myself.
But here’s the thing that Noor points out, before there was a war, there was a declaration that the West dropped on the Middle East. It’s called the Balfour Declaration. Here’s the Wikipedia article: The letter stated that the British government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
In other words, the West dropped this conflict right into the Middle East. A European problem became a Middle Eastern problem simply because the West held the power. And that right there is where the Palestinian problem begins. It’s not just the 1948 War, it’s the series of political decisions leading up to the war that must be considered even today as we confront the plight of the Palestinians. The Palestinians’ land was essentially given to another people by foreign nations.
And so the little town of Bethlehem has had a rough century. We should pray for the people of Bethlehem who have yet to know the peace that Christians hope for under the coming reign of the Lord. We should also pray for the Christians of this town, as their lot is particularly difficult. They belong to a race that is under the threat of Israeli attack and a religion that separates them from their muslim neighbors.