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25 Dec, 2014

Christmas message from Jerusalem: Join the Babe of Bethlehem in Creative Resistance

Muna Mushahwar and Robert Smith, Co-Moderators, PIEF Core Group

Christmas greetings from Jerusalem.

Even in the midst of lights and decorations in the Christian Quarter, Scout groups marching in Bethlehem, and amazing parties in Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, the reality of the situation in Israel and Palestine continues to challenge our Christmas joy. Just today, we received news that demolition orders have been issued in Hebron while other homes are being demolished on the Mt. of Olives.

During the past week, it was also reported that the Grand Mosque in Beersheva has been turned into a museum of Islamic culture even though 10,000 local Muslims still have no central place to pray. Local authorities have installed an exhibit of Muslim prayer rugs in the mosque building.

Many of you know well the Palestinian Christian cry for pilgrims to visit the “living stones” of the Holy Land, the living Christian communities rather than only the stones of the ancient church buildings. They do not want churches to become museums of the past.

This situation in Beersheva therefore demands our attention. The Muslim community is being ‘museumified’ by Israeli cultural and legal authorities. A living community is being pinned into a shadowbox like an insect on display. The appreciation of antique prayer rugs is being allowed to displace the prayers of the living.

Many, many people in the United States assume that American Indians are dead, a relic of distant history. The museumification of the Indian and the cultural appropriation of the Indian have contributed to this false notion. Instead, Indian peoples have been displaced and warehoused, neglected and abandoned by the dominant culture.

In Beersheva, we see that the experience of the American Indian continues, under the guise of cultural appreciation. In Beersheva—a fight that has gone on for many years—the settler-colonial power is asserting its ability to shape and eventually eliminate the memory of living communities, if not the communities themselves. Many other communities throughout the world have experienced similar domination. The Kairos for Global Justice brings us together to assert the rights not only of Palestinians, but of Dalits in India, the landless in Brasil, and the marginalized in South Africa, among others.

This struggle in Beersheva is one of the most creative expressions of Israeli domination. It must be met with creative resistance. What white-hot anger would be expressed at a small museum highlighting the cultural achievements of the once-mighty United States, an imperial power that buckled under the weight of imperial hubris? What outcry could be leveraged through a pop-up museum depicting the cultural achievements of a State of Israel that squandered its opportunity to exist by only pretending to consider the possibility of territorial compromise?

As many who read this prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in the squalor of a marginal manger under occupation by imperial powers, it is good to call to mind those who have been displaced and transferred, those whose connection to their traditional lands has been intentionally forgotten, those whose living memory is under assault by state authority. Call them to mind—along with the ill-born and impoverished Savior of the World—and join the babe of Bethlehem in creative resistance.

With joy in the struggle, and best wishes for a New Year of justice.