Thursday, December 17, 2009

A wish for peace to return to Bethlehem

By Jahangir Alam Akash, Bethlehem is a historical place. It's the birthplace of Jesus and also an ancient city of the Church. This makes it a holy site for Christians around the world. Bethlehem is a popular city during Christmas. At one time, there was peace in Bethlehem, and Arabs and Jews had a good friendship. But, now there is an ongoing battle between both Jews and Arabs, and the wonderful time of peace that existed 2,000 years ago is gone. Why is there fighting there among men? When will peace come again?

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Bethlehem was first settled by the Canaanite tribes, naming the city Beit Lahama. They built a temple to the God Lahama on the present Mount of the Nativity. Around 1200 BCE, the Philistines had a garrison stationed in Bethlehem because of its strategic location. The city also is significant to Jews, because it is the burial place of the matriarch Rachel and the birthplace of King David. Samuel anointed King David in Bethlehem, and David was a descendant of Ruth and Boaz, who were married in Bethlehem. Following the Israelites' rule, the Greeks occupied the region until the arrival of the Romans in 160 BCE.

Today, Bethlehem has a population of approximately 50,000 people, with the Muslims holding a slight majority. Manger Square is the focus of activities for Christmas celebrations not once, but three times a year. In addition to the traditional Western celebration which begins on December 24, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 6 and the Armenian observance takes place on January 19.

The Church of the Nativity was built in the 4th century by the mother of the Byzantine emperor, Constantine. Helena was also responsible for the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The present building, the oldest church in Israel/Palestine, was reconstructed in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian and further repaired by the Crusaders. During the Turkish occupation in 1517, the Franciscans and the Greeks fought over control of the Sanctuaries. Following the War of Independence in 1948, Bethlehem fell under the control of the Jordanians. Then, after the 1967 Six Day War, the Israelis took control of Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem, the Greek Orthodox Church has 15 churches and institutions; Roman Catholics have 25; Protestants have 8 churches; the Syriac Orthodox Church has one church; and the Ethiopians and the Coptic Christians have one each. There are also several mosques, including the Mosque of 'Umar, across the street from the Church of the Nativity. This mosque was erected in 1849. According to Christian tradition, this is where Mary spilled some milk while nursing Jesus when she was hiding from Herod's soldiers. The milk turned the rocks of the cave a chalk white colour. The rock is believed by some to have healing power and to make nursing easier for women.

As human beings, we want to see reflections of the nonviolent life of Jesus Christ and his words of forgiveness and love. For those disputing people among both Jews and Muslims, please walk with your family and friends, and make new friends with others who seek a more peaceful world. No one religion or person can reach that, especially anyone who allows the killing or torture of another human being.

All men and women are equal. Our first identity is as human beings. Why can't we forget our religious difference? Of course, we can believe in a creator, in the name of God/Creator/Allah/Superpower/Nature, etc. Every person can create love, friendship, amity, pleasure, fellow-feeling, cordiality, and good relations with others, in every group or community.

According to the International Middle East Media Center, 40 percent of the 32,000 residents of Bethlehem are Christians, and 60 percent are Muslims. The wall around Bethlehem increased the level of unemployment in the city to 29 percent, as the city’s main income depends on Christian pilgrims and tourism. The Christmas peace candle is being lit everywhere from house to house, starting from December 1st, especially in the houses of Christians.

I wanted to know the opinion of prominent human rights leader and journalist Bernhard Hertlein about this Christmas and global peace. When I asked him about this, he shared his feelings. He said, "As a Christian, for me, peace in Palestine is a great wish. It seems so hopeless. But, once there was a wonder in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago, so it might happen once more. If Jews and Arabs can learn to live together without walls, human rights violations and bomb attacks, it will be very good for world peace."

My hope is that Bethlehem would once again be a role model for coexistence with a great peace and love between Muslims and Christians. My great hope for this Christmas in Bethlehem would be no walls and no human rights violations. World peace and happiness will come in the near future.

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Jahangir Alam Akash-Editor of Euro Bangla


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Jahangir Alam Akash Editor Euro Bangla