Once it was Bit ilu Lahmu, the temple of the Sumerian corn god Lathmu, founded over 4000 years ago and thus one of the oldest settlements in the world. Later it was the holy City of Bethlehem, scene of the nativity of Jesus, a sacred site of Christianity. But, most oddly, Christians do not seem overly concerned about a recent ‘Christmas present’ for ancient Bethlehem. This is the huge occupation wall, 25 feet high, which seals off the municipality from Jerusalem.
Nor is Jerusalem itself in any better state, since the Wall is beginning to slice like a scythe of sharp concrete through the southern part of that city as well. Indeed, Con Couglin was prescient enough to comment several years ago that: ‘To look at Jerusalem today is to view the ruthless triumph of Zionism over the spiritual capital of the world’.1
Ruthless triumph of Zionism over the world more like, or – to display greater exactitude – over the United States of America in particular. Bethlehem is immured, and who pays the hard cash for its walling off? In large part, it’s the clappy-happy pseudo Christians of the US, working hard in their part-time low wage jobs, when they’re not squeezing their oversized behinds into the pews at some ‘Crystal Cathedral’ or other.
Fancy an exercise in futility? Noble-hearted futility, but still futility? The exercise is as follows: try writing to prominent churchmen about this outrage. Be as eloquent and polite as you like, but I doubt that you will receive many – if any – replies. There are a few possible exceptions – Archbishop Tutu springs to mind. On this issue, he’s an honourable man, and should be recorded here as such.
But his fellow Archbishops and Bishops of the Anglican Communion are among the least likely of all to speak up for now stricken ‘little town of Bethlehem’.
As Duo Doloroso put it :
O Little Town of Bethlehem,
in fear we see thee lie,
We hear thee weep in fitful sleep,
as tanks and planes go by,
And in thy shattered streets is shown,
the Palestinian plight.
The hopes and fears of all the years,
are dashed for thee tonight
What was it that the most famous – if temporary – inhabitant of Bethlehem once said? On the outside they try to look righteous, but on the inside they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Granted this level of ecclesial leadership, is it any wonder that the places of worship in their own custody are often desolate and locked, or turned into warehouses and private residences? Very often, those who have acquired ‘respectability’ and position they don’t want to lose finish up by losing their consciences. Media hirelings who report a suicide bomb in Netanya while ignoring the sinking of a Palestinian fishing boat by shelling are of the same mentality too.2
I have seen Palestine when it was still Palestinian, if only at second hand, and around this time of year. Coloured moving images on a screen, with a slight sepia tone, already a fair number of years old, watched by young schoolchildren. Misty light on the reeds of the Jordan as it enters the Sea of Galilee; gnarled olive trees and gnarled shepherd. The same place, but a world away from Wall, barbed wire, checkpoints and sniper towers. Still, a people that makes a spirited fight against oppression cannot ever really be defeated, whatever the odds, whatever the suffering.
But, though it is all done more subtly, maybe the levels of subjugation in the United States, Britain and Western Europe are just as great. Communitarian thinking has declined: the old mass industries of the miners, steel workers and dockers have fallen by the wayside. It is each man against the next, all walled off into atomised units of economic man. The leaders of these countries – the aspirational elite – resemble nothing as much as servants of the ‘master of all merchants’, otherwise the prince of this world.3 Unlike the Muslim countries that are on the neo-con hit-list, Western societies are doing a fairly good job of destroying themselves with drugs and alcohol. It makes a kind of perverse sense: those that don’t destroy themselves, have to be attacked from outside.
To put an end to this global dictatorship of money and war requires nothing less than a worldwide Intifada. But in the Western world, due to the more subtle and diffuse nature of the oppressing power, this Intifada must take the form of a battle of minds, words and thought.
It’s time to break down the walls of hypocrisy, the walls of fear.
1 A Golden Basin Full Of Scorpions : The Quest For Modern Jerusalem
2 Those who are now filing into shelters for the homeless in London – ever-increasing thousands of them in Bliar’s Britain – are better men and women than they.
3 See Countess Cathleen by W.B.Yeats