Tachles with Aviel – When the silent night is too quiet

At Christmas it’s always easy to feel more sympathy for the Palestinians. Especially the Palestinian Christians, who are a minority within the Muslim population.

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: palestinians, CHRISTIANS, Christmas
This year at Christmas it is quiet in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Christmas lights and Christmas trees were canceled. Photo: EPA-EFE/Wisam Hashlamoun
This year at Christmas it is quiet in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Christmas lights and Christmas trees were canceled. Photo: EPA-EFE/Wisam Hashlamoun

Tachles: A modern Hebrew word of Yiddish origin that means “to the point.”


 

Almost all of the world media mourn the “silent Christmas in Bethlehem” and blame it directly and indirectly on the Israeli closures of the Palestinian-controlled territories. However, these are a consequence of the war in Gaza, and the war is a consequence of the barbaric attack of October 7th. In addition, all international airlines have canceled their flights to the Holy Land, so that no more tourists come to the country. But Israel is to blame for everything. But wait, the beautiful Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night” is also about a moment of peace and quiet.

Everyone is sad that it is too quiet in Bethlehem. “The snow is falling quietly.” If it had snowed in Bethlehem, then it would also fall quietly and there would be silence. No colorful Christmas tree in front of the Church of the Nativity and none of the usual holiday hype. A brilliant moment to blame Israel for all the unrest in the Holy Land, but Israel, according to the media accusations, caused a “silent night.”

“Day of deep sadness for Gaza: Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus,” read one headline.

“Sad Christmas 2023 in Bethlehem: Everything is empty,” mourned another.

“Bethlehem is like a ghost town,” announced a third, explaining that “today everything is different because of the fighting in the Gaza Strip. The city council and church representatives [in Bethlehem] have decided to forego the festive Christmas celebrations.”

That’s true, but it happened because of pressure from Hamas on the Christian population.

Instead, Church leaders marked Christmas by issuing strong political message. The Latin Patriarch led the charge by demanding an end to the “Israeli occupation.”

On the facade of the Bethlehem Municipality hangs a large banner reading: “Palestine gave Jesus to the world. Give Palestine freedom and justice.” Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Hanania said this year is a year of mourning because of the war in Gaza. “As in the time of King Herod, innocent children are being murdered today. If Jesus were born today, he would be born in the ruins of Gaza.”

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also made it clear how much he sympathizes with the suffering of Palestinian Christians. “We will never leave you. You experience fear, death and tragedy, but you are a light in this moment because you are courageously there. From Bethlehem we embrace you.”

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Photo: EPA-EFE/Nasser Nasser / POOL

Palestinian Christians abuse Christmas to spread their lies, because at Christmas all cameras are focused on Bethlehem. Because of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus, who was a Jew and not a Palestinian. Palestinian Christians talk about their close friendship with their Muslim brothers and sisters. “We are an integral part of the Palestinian community and suffer from the same problems as our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip. Muslims and Christians have been living side by side under the aggression of the occupation for many decades, and together we cope with our everyday lives,” said Hanania.

For the dean of the Bethlehem Bible College, Munther Isaac, Christians and Muslims are “BFFs.” He emphasized to the Berliner Zeitung that there is no difference between Muslims and Christians in the region; both have lived together for almost 1,400 years. “Muslims are our colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates and friends. As Christians, we are not a separate ethnic minority, we are all Palestinians and Arabs,” insisted Isaac, who refused to do an interview with me several times a few years ago.

He and Salim Munayer have been leading the Israel-critical conference “Christ at the Checkpoint” in Bethlehem for years. It is Isaac’s right not to speak to me, but he is afraid of the questions, and I know what Palestinian Christians really think about their Muslim neighbors. By the way, I also asked the pastor and provost of the Evangelical Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, Joachim Lenz, for a conversation by email before the barbaric attack on October 7th and two weeks after. No reaction. They’re probably both angry at me and Israel Today for not sharing their brand of “Christmas spirit.”

Munther Isaac continues to moan that there are no tree lightings, no decorations and none of the famous street festivals in Bethlehem. In his church, next to the altar, there is a pile of stones in which lies a doll wrapped in the typical Palestinian headscarf – a parallel between the children in the Gaza Strip and Christ, who was also born oppressed.

In other words, Israeli rule today is equated with Roman rule in the New Testament. Just as the people back then, including Jesus, suffered under the Roman conquerors, the Palestinians suffer today under the Israelis – and so Jesus is converted to a Palestinian. That is why Palestinian Christians, especially church leaders, embrace Replacement Theology, according to which Christians are the new and true people of Israel, because the Jews crucified Jesus and thereby violated the covenant. As simple as that.

Christians are a small minority in the Holy Land. Around 60,000 Christians of various denominations live in the so-called “West Bank,” with another 1,000 in the Gaza Strip and 120,000 in Israel. For centuries, Christians made up the majority of the population in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Today, they are in the minority there, too.

Palestinians carry the Palestinian flag as a sign of solidarity with the people of Gaza during the Christmas Eve procession in Manger Square to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo: EPA-EFE/Wisam Hashlamoun

Tachles – Bethlehem is a Muslim city. Only one in five residents of Bethlehem is Christian. A sharp decline since Bethlehem came under the control of the Palestinian Authority in 1995. Before that, 80 percent of the residents were Christian. In Beit Jala, which borders Bethlehem, the Christian majority fell from 99 to 61 percent. In Beit Sahour, also near Bethlehem, the 12,000 Christians living there now make up around 65 percent of the population; a few decades ago it was 81 percent. These figures come from Israeli sources. We have spoken to many Palestinian Christians, private individuals, over the years. All have said they’s rather live under Jewish rule, given the choice between that and life under Islam. Palestinian church leaders would never publicly admit this.

Tachles – at Christmas, the Palestinian church leaders know how to speak of peace, suffering and sadness for the Palestinians with beautiful words and messages, with appropriate intonations. I do not deny the suffering of the Palestinians, but not at the expense of Israel. Israel is the rightful owner of the Promised Land, and this is criticized in the pastors’ “heartbreaking sermons” to the world. And now Israel is being blamed for the “Silent Night” in Bethlehem. It was not a “Holy Night” in Bethlehem.