This time every year, the souls of billions of people turn to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the messenger of love, peace and justice. Over 2000 years ago, the message of Jesus was delivered from a humble manger in Bethlehem. We are proud that this precious tradition is an integral part of Palestine and that Palestinians all over the world feel pride and inspiration for coming from a land of divine messages, prophets and saints.
This Christmas marks 50 years under Israeli occupation. By next Easter, our people will also be marking 70 years since the Nakba provoked our exile. Both, occupation and exile, are an ongoing reality for over 12 million Palestinians living all over the world. Many of them are part of the oldest Christian community worldwide, yet they have been denied from living and worshipping in the Land of Jesus Christ only because Israel considers all Palestinians as a “demographic threat”.
Bethlehem is currently surrounded by 18 illegal colonial-settlements that are under ongoing expansion on Palestinian land. The Annexation Wall, a wall of shame and apartheid, has been built from the heart of the city and extends towards the Cremisan Valley, affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of Palestinian families, mainly Christians. Bethlehem, the birthplace of hope, continues to be affected by the Israeli plans to create the “Greater Jerusalem” on the sufferings of Palestinians.
Regretfully, the U.S. has decided, against its obligations under International Law, to reward such policies by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This has been an insult to millions of people worldwide, and also to the city of Bethlehem. Washington’s decision has encouraged the illegal disconnection between the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, both separated for the first time in over 2000 years of Christianity.
The U.S. decided to support Israel’s claims and rhetoric of an exclusive “Jewish capital”, over the inclusion and respect that a city important to the three monotheistic religions should have. The U.S. also ignored that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Occupied State of Palestine. An occupied city where church property and future is being threatened by the occupier and groups of Zionist fundamentalists, as it has been seen in the Jaffa Gate scandal.
It is because of this U.S. decision to support illegality and the blatant violations of our rights, that we will not accept the U.S. as the mediator in the Peace Process nor are we going to accept any plan from the U.S. side. The U.S. chose to be biased. Their future plan for Palestine will not be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor will it be based on International Law or UN resolutions.
While the U.S. administration has decided to reward injustice and threaten others who do not support it, we will continue our path towards freedom and independence. We are inspired by the message of Jesus, who refused injustice and spread a word of hope. The Holy Bible says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled”. Threats against those who support justice will be met with the same spirit and response from our nation and from millions of dignified people around the world. The steadfastness of our proud nation is a great reflection that “'People do not live by bread alone”.
This Christmas, I would like to reiterate my appreciation for the work of the local churches in Palestine, which filled this land not only with a word of hope and saints, such as sisters Mariam Baouardi and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, but also with institutions that serve all Palestinians regardless of their religion.
We call upon world Christians to listen to the true voices of the indigenous Christians from the Holy Land. The same voices that strongly rejected the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital through their Heads of Churches. They are the descendants of the first followers of Jesus Christ and an integral part of the Palestinian people. There will not be a vibrant Palestinian society without its Christian component. The contributions of our Christians to the national movement have been precious, always remembered, and represent an example for the rest of our region to make clear that there will not be an Arab world without Christians, an inherent part of our societies.
We will continue working for the freedom of our country and the return of our people. We will continue working for achieving our rights and ending this illegal-colonial occupation. We will ensure that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity, are once again reunited. We will continue working with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to preserve the Status Quo of Al Aqsa Mosque Compound and all our Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. We will certainly and tirelessly continue working for justice.
Let us rescue the message of hope that emerged from a humble Grotto in Bethlehem to work for a better future, one where freedom overthrows oppression, where we speak truth to power, where peace, justice and coexistence prevail over occupation, Apartheid and exclusivity, and where energies are directed to construction not destruction.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”
I wish all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
H.E Mahmoud Abbas
President of the State of Palestine