National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Voices of Christmas
Issue Date:  December 19, 2003

A letter from Bethlehem

Susan Atallah is a Palestinian Catholic. She teaches English at St. Joseph’s School for girls in Bethlehem.

Dear Friends,

It hurts us Christian Palestinians when people don’t acknowledge our presence in the Holy Land. Some people forget or pretend to forget that Christianity was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.

We put up Christmas trees and decorate our homes, our schools, our streets, and it has been done for years -- except for the last three years of the intifada. We have lost so many people due to violence. Homes have been demolished, people arrested, walls built and checkpoints added, but we are still here. The death of one of our students in school is still fresh in our minds. Christine Sa’adeh was killed while she was with her family going for a quick ride. The Israeli soldiers had ambushed a “wanted” car, and it happened that her father’s car was similar to that car. She was 12 years old when she was killed, and all of Bethlehem mourned her death. There are so many similar stories both in the Palestinian cities and the Israeli cities, and many innocent people, especially children, are killed.

We Christians are dwindling in numbers because of emigration, but we are still here. We forget sometimes the meaning of joy, security and justice because they are denied us, but we make every effort to adjust ourselves to each and every situation we are exposed to. It’s true that we live in a big prison with checkpoints and barbed wires around the little town of Bethlehem, but we manage to go to work, deal with job-related problems, traffic, family matters, and so on -- just like everybody else, except that we don’t lead a life like everybody else.

Every New Year we pray that the situation gets better, and every year it deteriorates. What I’m talking about is not a matter of Christmas decorations; it’s a matter of feeling alive and free in body and spirit. We want to feel the spirit of Christmas and the message that Jesus came to spread: love, peace and reconciliation. We’ve had enough of violence.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve a better life, based on peace and justice. Will peace come without justice, or will security come without peace? Those are questions yet to be answered, but who has the answers? And who has the courage to implement them on the ground? I wonder.

Susan Atallah
Bethlehem, West Bank

National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 2003

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