AT-TUWANI REFLECTION: Christmas in the real Bethlehem

December 28, 2004

AT-TUWANI REFLECTION: Christmas in the real Bethlehem

by Art Gish

Although I am in Palestine, I did not go to Bethlehem for Christmas this
year. Instead I spent the day in At-Tuwani, an ancient village in the
South Hebron Hills where I have been living and working with Christian
Peacemaker Teams.

Bethlehem is a modern, bustling city with noise, pollution, and traffic
jams. At-Tuwani is a small village south of Hebron where people live in
much the same way as people lived in ancient Bethlehem. Whole families
live in one small room and life is simple.

At-Tuwani, however, has more in common with the past than ancient stone
houses, women drawing water from the one well and carrying it home on
their heads, or shepherds watching their flocks on the surrounding hills.

Like the Bethlehem of old, At-Tuwani is an occupied town. Instead of
Roman soldiers, now Israeli soldiers are ever present to control and
oppress the inhabitants of Palestine.

In At-Tuwani I spend time out in the hills with the shepherds tending the
sheep, hoping to offer some protection from the nearby Israeli settlers
who are killing the Palestinian flocks, stealing the land, harassing the
school children, and beating up anyone who stands in the way.

For me the Christmas season is a time to look forward to the advent of a
new social order of peace and justice. On Christmas day I experienced a
foretaste of that kingdom. Israeli peace activists (Wise Men?) from
Ta'ayush came to At- Tuwani to show their respect to people who are
supposed to
be their enemies.

They brought gifts, a truck load of olive trees for Palestinian villages
in the area. The truck was stopped by Israeli police and soldiers who
apparently considered the olive trees a security threat. I remembered
King Herod had also considered the baby Jesus a threat. The trees were
allowed into the village after some "dialogue" with the occupiers as
Israeli military jets thundered overhead. I thought of the Roman soldiers
who used to be here.

My faith was renewed as Jews, Muslims and Christians planted olive trees
and broke bread together in anticipation of the day when all oppression
will cease and those nasty guns and clubs will be turned into plowshares.

Christmas came to At-Tuwani this year. Even the Muslim schools were
closed to honor the nativity. For me, At-Tuwani was the real Bethlehem.


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