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This Christmas season I had, for someone from the United States, a probably once-in-a-lifetime experience. I spent time in the West Bank staying with a Christian Palestinian family and had Christmas season experiences I will probably never have again.
What is on my heart this Christmas due to my new experience? I don’t have to describe or point out the beauty of Bethlehem, the lights, and the sights. It is something different that is on my heart.
This is not meant to be judgmental. I want to present a contrast. The same day I was in Bethlehem, I was in Jerusalem. I was in the Old City. “Anaa wa’ahlee” (Arabic for “my family and I” - I am referring to my host family who has welcomed me, loved me, and made me a true member of the family) made an attempt to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque. I’m not sure what possessed my host father to attempt this, but we tried. We were abruptly and hostilely confronted by a guard, for we were all Christian. Religious postulation requires an armed guard in fatigues. I did not feel endangered, but that is not the point. The mere presence of a certain religion is that much of a threat. Meanwhile, Muslims were free to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and tour all of the religious Christian areas.
Later in Bethlehem, at the Church of the Nativity, there were again many Muslims who came to see the birthplace of Jesus, and pose for pictures at the crèche depicting the story of the birth of Christ in the manger in front of the magnificent tree outside of the church. Even though it is a one-way street as far as being able to partake of each others’ religions, it was heartwarming to see the genuine happiness on their faces in the experience they were having.
The last image burned into my memory as we left Bethlehem in the cold, dark night was a group of beautiful Muslim women in their hijabs posing on the sidewalk with a larger-than-life statue of Santa Clause, huge smiles on their faces, while the overhead played “Silent Night” in Arabic. I prayed that the words would truly be an experience in their hearts: Christ the savior is born. For all of us.
“Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Luke 2:11
Christmas in the West Bank