Israel’s Military Occupation Celebrate Xmas by Tear Gassing Demonstration in Bethlehem
I must confess that despite being a confirmed atheist, I
enjoy having a Xmas tree in my living room each year. I particularly enjoy seeing the lights as it
provides a kind of warm glow. It doesn’t
make me believe in the Resurrection though!
For most people in Britain, the Xmas tree, like Xmas itself, is a
secular symbol of a secular festival.
But in Israel it is entirely different.
|Even Santa gets tear gassed Bi’ilin 2011 – Popular Committee Against the Wall via europalestine.com|
course Rabbi Elad
Dokow of Israel’s Technion University is right when he says that “This is not about freedom of worship,,, This
is the world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the
nations’ and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”
there are very few religious states in the world and even fewer where
nationality is based, not on residence but on religion. Most religious states either use the
religion to oppress adherents of that religion (Saudi Arabia, Iran) or it is a
constitutional adornment without any significance (UK). Only in Israel does belonging to the state
religion confer significant advantages.
the display of a Xmas tree does indeed strike a blow at the heart of Israel’s ‘national
identity’ in a way it wouldn’t in say Ireland, which is also nominally a Christian
article mentions Shimon Gapso, the notoriously racist Mayor of Upper Nazareth
(built as a Jewish town to contain the Arab Nazareth beneath it but which has
seen a steady ‘encroachment’ of Arabs because of the usual restrictions on any
expansion of an Arab town. Christmas
Trees Are Still Banned in Nazareth Illit and Forbidden
to celebrate: Israel’s war on Christmas continues despite Netanyahu’s claim of
|Ezz Al-Zanoon APA images|
Israeli soldiers fired tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades at
Palestinians calling for free movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem
The Christmas-themed protest was held in front of Checkpoint 300,
where Israeli soldiers control Palestinian movement between the occupied
West Bank cities.
Approximately 100 protesters, some of them dressed in Santa Claus
suits, chanted against Israel’s military occupation and for Palestinian
“Jesus came with a message of peace, his city suffers oppression,” one demonstrator’s sign read.
“Santa Claus stands with the Palestinian people,” stated another.
Half a dozen people were injured, including journalists, during the protest.
Palestinians and their supporters highlight around Christmastime
that if Joseph and Mary were to make their journey from Nazareth today,
Israel’s military checkpoints and massive concrete wall would prevent
them from accessing the Bethlehem manger where tradition holds Jesus
Christ was born.
Israel’s wall completely encircles Bethlehem, as do its settlement
colonies, turning a once vibrant Palestinian cultural center and
international tourist destination into a shuttered ghetto.
Israel’s regime of movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians
living under its military rule prevents the free access to places of
worship, including the al-Aqsa mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulchre
in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Even the Holy Fire of Easter must pass through an Israeli checkpoint during the ancient ritual observed by Orthodox Christians in Palestine.
hotels receive warning letter noting that Jewish religious law forbids
Christmas trees and new year’s parties
– 23 December 2016
of thousands of Christian pilgrims converge on the Holy Land this week to
celebrate the birth of Jesus, senior Israeli rabbis have announced a war on the
|Christmas Trees Banned in Nazareth Illit|
Jerusalem, the rabbinate has issued a letter warning dozens of hotels in the
city that it is “forbidden” by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage New Year’s parties.
hotel owners have taken the warning to heart, fearful that the rabbis may carry
out previous threats to damage their businesses by denying them certificates
declaring their premises to be “kosher”.
coastal city of Haifa, in northern Israel, the rabbi of Israel’s premier
technology university has taken a similarly strict line. Elad Dokow, the
Technion’s rabbi, ordered that Jewish students boycott their students’ union,
after it installed for the first time a modest Christmas tree.
the tree “idolatry”, warning
that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status of the building,
including its food hall.
fifth of the Technion’s students belong to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.
|The Technion’s Christmas tree (copyright Firas Espanioly)|
most of Israel’s Palestinian citizens are Muslim, there are some 130,000
Christians, most of them living in Galilee. Other Palestinian Christians
live under occupation in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed in violation
of international law.
not about freedom of worship,” Dokow told the Technion’s students. “This is the
world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the nations’
and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”
Mahajni, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student, said that placing the
tree in the union was backed by Palestinian students but had strongly divided
opinion among Jewish students and staff. The majority, he said, were against
professor upset [Palestinian] students by taking to Facebook to say that the
tree made him uncomfortable, and that those who wanted it should either put one
up in their own home or go to Europe,” he told Al Jazeera.
added: “This is not really about a Christmas tree. It is about who the tree
represents. It is a test of whether Jewish society is willing to accept an Arab
minority and our symbols.”
pointed out that Palestinian students had not objected to the students’ union
also marking Hanukkah, referring to the Jewish winter “festival of lights” that
this year coincides with Christmas.
of Israel’s history, the festive fir tree was rarely seen outside a handful of
communities in Israel with significant Christian populations. But in recent
years, the appeal of Christmas celebrations has spread among secular Israeli
took off two decades ago, after one million Russian-speaking Jews immigrated
following the fall of the Soviet Union, said David Bogomolny, a spokesman for
Hiddush, which lobbies for religious freedom in Israel.
told Al Jazeera, had little connection to Jewish religious practice and had
adopted local customs in their countries of origin instead.
[in the former Soviet Union] was very popular but it had nothing to do with
Christmas,” he said. “Each home had one as a way to welcome in the new year.”
which claims to host the tallest Christmas tree in the Middle East, has
recently become a magnet for many domestic tourists, including Jews, Christians
and Muslims. They come to visit the Christmas market, hear carols and buy a
Jaffa, two largely Jewish cities with significant Palestinian Christian
populations, have recently started competing. Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, staged
its first Christmas market last year.
hotels are keen to erect a tree in their lobbies as a way to boost tourism
revenue from Christian pilgrims, who comprise the bulk of overseas visitors.
growing popularity of Christmas has upset many Orthodox rabbis, who have
significant powers over public space. Bogomolny said that some rabbis were
driven by a desire to make the state “as Jewish as possible” to avert it losing
may fear that the proliferation of Christmas trees could lure Israeli Jews
Nassar, a spokesman for the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, said that he had
noticed an increasing interest from Israeli Jews in Christian festivals,
including in some cases requests to attend Christmas mass.
Al Jazeera this was not a threat to Judaism, but healthy curiosity. “If we want
to live together in peace, we have to understand each other and learn to
trust,” he said.
controversial status of Christmas in Israel was underscored four years ago when
Yair Netanyahu, the 21-year-old son of Israel’s prime minister, caused a minor
scandal by being photographed wearing a Santa hat next to a Christmas tree.
office of Benjamin Netanyahu hurriedly issued a statement saying that Yair had posed
as a joke while attending a party hosted by “Christian Zionists who love
Israel, and whose children served in the [Israeli army]”.
earlier, Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, originally founded for Jews
on Nazareth’s land, banned all signs of Christmas in the city’s public places.
He has been a vociferous opponent of an influx of Christians from overcrowded
Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has also been declared a Christmas tree-free
its speaker rejected a request from Hanna Swaid, then a Palestinian
Christian legislator, to erect a tree in the building. Yuli Edelstein said it
would evoke “painful memories” of Jewish persecution in Europe and chip away at
the state’s Jewish character.
pointed to the prominence of Jewish symbols in public spaces in the United
States, including an annual Hanukkah party at the White House, during which the
president lights menorah candles.
leaders expect the US to be religiously inclusive, but then they refuse to
practise the same at home,” he told Al Jazeera.
noted that the religious freedoms of the Palestinian minority were under ever
greater attack, most notably with the recent drafting of a so-called “muezzin
bill”, which would crack down on mosques’ use of loudspeakers for the call to
this hostile political climate, the battle to gain legitimacy for our religious
symbols becomes all the more important,” he said. “Otherwise we face a dark
there has been a backlash, especially from secular Jews, against the rigid
control exercised by Orthodox rabbis.
mayor, Yona Yahav, overruled the city’s rabbi in 2012 when he tried to ban
Christmas trees and new year’s parties. The Jewish new year occurs several
months before the Christian one.
year, in the face of a legal challenge from Hiddush, the chief rabbinate backed down on threats to revoke the kosher status of
businesses that celebrate Christmas.
the ban on Christmas trees has been formally lifted, in practice it is still
widely enforced, according to Bogomolny.
problem is that the chief rabbinate actually has no authority over city rabbis,
who can disregard its rulings, as we have seen with the letter issued by the
Jerusalem rabbis,” he said.
hotels wanted to ignore the prohibition on Christmas trees because it was bad
for business, but feared being punished.
problem throughout the country,” he said. “The hotels are afraid to take a stand.
If they try to fight it through the courts, it will be costly and could take
years to get a ruling.”
manager in West Jerusalem to whom Al Jazeera spoke on condition of anonymity
said he feared “retaliation” from the rabbis.
letter was clearly intended to intimidate us,” he said. “The Christian tourists
are here to celebrate Christmas and we want to help them do it, but not if it
costs us our certificate.”