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No Room at the Inn
December 17, 2000

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room at the inn." (Luke 2:7)

The streets of Bethlehem were filled - everyone returning for the census, filling all of the available shelter.  Mary and Joseph, it seems, arrived later and were forced to "make do" - even with a newly arrived child - by taking shelter wherever they could.

Those in Palestine this year, 2000 years later, will once again have to make do.  The streets are now empty, as the promised tourists for Christmas 2000 have preferred to stay home rather than risk life and limb in a potential warzone.  The planning and finances that went into this year's expected boon to the Palestinian economy will leave innumerable businesses and families in the red.  There is, quite ironically, plenty of room at the inn this Christmas season - not just in Bethlehem, but throughout Palestine and Israel.

In villages next to Bethlehem, there is a tragedy of a different sort.  Many families in predomninantly Christian Beit Jala and Beit Sahour are seeking shelter this Christmas season. In Beit Sahour alone, 9 homes have been totally destroyed, 155 homes are in need of substantial repair due to gunfire and missile damage, 150 families have been displaced, 3000 workers are unemployed. On our visit there, we saw the tents that some families are living in, beside their uninhabitable homes.  As Mary and Joseph, they are finding shelter where they can.

A week ago, we visited the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, where 40,000 Palestinians in the Old City are living under almost constant curfew, unable to leave their homes to work, shop, or go to school - all for the security of 500 Israeli settlers.  Those in the valley near Hebron aren't much better off. We met with a family that has had three different homes in the past three years - the first two were victims of home demolitions by the Israeli govenment. Each time, the family, with help from Israeli and Palestinian activists, rebuilt their home. A week before our visit, their third home was taken over by Kiryat Arba' settlers, who burned its contents and prevented the family from returning. Days later, another family's home was surrounded by 100 settlers who threw stones at the home and threatened the family.  Time to find shelter wherever you can.

Loss of home is a story already well-known by the Jahallin Bedouin outside of Jerusalem.  We heard their story on a recent visit with activists from Rabbis for Human Rights.  The Bedouin were originally refugees in 1951, but found themselves on desirable real estate near the Ma'ale Adummim settlement in the 1970s.  One hundred families have had to give up their land and their lifestyle for the shipping containers and locked-up permanent housing the Israeli government provided as compensation.  In the meantime, their new homeland is a memorial to "making do" - streets signs act as walls, shipping containers as homes.

It is our hope that, during the hustle and bustle of Christmas in the West, as lights are strung from tree to tree, and the ubiquitous sound of carols fills the air, that fellow Christians realize that the land where it all began will be silent and dark.  To celebrate, even in a land where celebration is an integral part of life, seems almost frivolous in the face of such destruction and loss.  And yet the worship services and candlelight vigils will continue, an absolutely essential reminder to the world that the Prince of Peace has already come.

There was no room at the inn, so Mary and Joseph found shelter where they could.  The people of Palestine are having to do the same.  But we rest firm in the knowledge that God comes to us in the most desperate of situations, in the most degrading spots we might be forced to call "home."  We hope in the one who came as a child, Immanuel, God with us, and we greet you in his holy name.

Salaam al-Messiah (the peace of Christ),
Marthame and Elizabeth

PS  We invite you, particularly given the stories above, to visit our journal page to see words, images, and videos of the visits mentioned above.
PPS As always, we have attached a couple of pieces (see if you can guess their connecting theme) from others who strive for peace in this time of conflict:
1) "Christmas in the Village" by Dr. Maria Khoury, an American citizen working for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem as her family faces the hardships of the post-Oslo era.
2) "Christmas Message" from the International Center of Bethlehem and General Director Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb.
3) "No Christmas in Bethlehem" from the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Beit Jala.