Contrary to the lyrics of the ageless Christmas carol; all is not calm, all is not bright in Bethlehem tonight. There is silence but no calm. There is darkness but no peace.
Visitors have stayed away from the birthplace of Jesus this Christmas. Israeli troops will not withdraw from Bethlehem despite Pope John’s request. Christians dare not visit for fear of their lives.
It’s a fear that Palestinians know all too well. Just 10 days ago in Bethlehem, Abdullah Shawka and Abed Abu Mousa were shot and killed by Israeli troops.
The only brightness in Israel is the flash of automatic weapons directed at foolhardy Palestinians who dare stick their heads outdoors during curfew. The silence is occasionally broken by the sickening red roar of Palestinians blowing themselves up. They take as many Israelis to eternity as they can, as happened a month ago when a suicide bomber killed 10 Israelis on a bus in nearby Jerusalem.
The dream of a home for God’s chosen people has turned into a nightmare.
The birth of Israel was bloody. “The violent birth of Israel led to a major displacement of the Arab population,” says the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1948, approximately 1,000,000 Palestinians (the numbers are hotly disputed) were driven from their homes by bombs or killed by Israeli troops.
The Palestinians fled for their lives into refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza strip. There they remain packed into shacks, living in squalor. The fenced Gaza strip holds one million Palestinians in an area of a few square kilometers.
Israel hasn’t always been a right-wing country although it has always considered its military as the will of God. Israel was founded on leftist principles of agricultural communes (the kibbutz) and a strong trade union movement (Histadrut). The Histadrut evolved into more than a union to become the largest employer in Israel. In 1983 it employed 85 per cent of all wage earners, including 170,000 Arabs.
Since the mid-1980’s “Israel’s economy has undergone a dramatic transformation,” says Adam Hanieh in the Monthly Review (October, 2002). The Israeli government privatized state-owned enterprises and the Histadrut, relaxed government control of capital markets, and reduced real wages. Capitalism flourished as money flowed into Israel from businessmen such as Canada’s Charles Bronfman.
This transformation meant the undermining of egalitarian principles that Israel was founded on and the transfer of wealth from average Israelis to the new capitalist class.
As the politics of Israel shifted from left to right, conditions for the Palestinians went from bad to worse. Before the mid-1980’s, they provided a cheap source of labour for Israel. About 35 per cent of the Palestinian workforce was employed as labourers, servants, gardeners, and in low-paid positions in Israel.
After the 1980’s Israel began to import foreign workers from Asia and Eastern Europe. By 1996, 6 per cent of the Palestinian workforce were employed in Israel.
Although the Palestinians were no longer useful as an exploited labour pool, they did present a political solution. If Israel was to exploit cheap labour in their Arab neighbours, Jordan and Egypt, they had to make peace with their own captive Arabs.
The solution was a deal with Israel’s enemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization. The so-called Oslo Agreement in 1993 was supposed to “end to decades of confrontation and conflict.” It gave the Palestinians the right to self-rule and a police force. But these apparent concessions were “carefully circumscribed within the context of Israel’s continuing control and domination,” says Hanieh.
Israel recently demonstrated their contempt for self-rule by holding the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, under house arrest as punishment for his failure to strongly condemn suicide bombers. Israel would like a “regime change” of the PLO. It’s a idea borrowed from the U.S. – – if don’t like the leader of a country that you plan to colonize, replace them with your hand-picked stooge.
The dominance of Israel was foretold in the Bible. “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places,” Deuteronomy 33:29.
With God, capitalism, and U.S. weapons on their side Israel seems destined to succeed. Will Palestinians cower before Israeli tanks that flatten their dilapidated homes? Not likely. The unholy terror will continue.