Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Palestine

Growing up, Christmas was a special day filled with family and friends. We would gather early at my parents' house to sit around the fireplace in our pajamas drinking hot chocolate and opening presents. Then we'd cook a big breakfast together and those of us without other relatives to visit would go for a long walk on the beach. Christmas meant taking a day off from whatever else was going on to be with family.

I'm now living in Bethlehem, Palestine which has its own rich Christmas traditions. But taking a break from the “real” world for a day is not a luxury that people living under occupation can take. I tried to revive some of my family's traditions but though we are living within driving distance of the Mediterranean and Red seas as well as Lake Tiberias, these are all places my husband is not allowed to go. His Palestinian ID card means it is illegal for him to reach these areas. Even Gaza's Mediterranean coast, another area supposedly under Palestinian control, is out of reach for him and others with West Bank ID cards. (Actually, Gaza is out of reach for pretty much everyone as Israel continues its blockade for the third year.)

My husband and I took a walk to his parents' house in the nearby Dheisheh Refugee Camp instead. It was another reminder of Palestinian dispossession as we walked amongst the 12,000 people now living in this camp. 62 years ago these families were living in 45 different villages near Hebron and Jerusalem. But most of the camp residents have never even seen their villages though in some cases the village lands are just a few miles away from the refugee camp.

Christmas night we went to a festival in the nearby town of Beit Sahour. We watched a riveting performance by Al-Funoun dance troupe while enjoying hot tea and falafel. But there too, we found reminders of the Israeli occupation when a group of French visitors came late because 5 members of their group were arrested by Israeli soldiers in the city of Hebron while protesting the illegal Israeli settlers who took over Palestinian homes.

When I came home and watched the news, the Christmas round-up in Palestine included Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, closure of all Gaza crossings, eviction orders for a Palestinian family, and two homes demolished in Jerusalem. Christmas in Palestine is like any other day decorated with lights.

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