“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (Luke 2:15). ‘”
The shepherds are part of a long list of visitors who have been interested in the birthplace of Christ. Believers of many faiths have been interested in the Holy Land for thousands of years. Too much attention by too many people. Too many conflicting blueprints for this tiny patch of earth.
Christians want to turn back the clock in the Holy Land to the time when Christ was born – – to a time when their Lord and Savior walked the earth and spread his Gospel. It’s long ago in a land far away.
If modern shepherds tried to get to Bethlehem and the Holy Land using a map, they would have trouble finding the place. There is no place on the map called Holy Land and the name for the town of Bethlehem is uncertain.
Not to worry. The shepherds could simply hop aboard a tour of the Holy Land and the tour guides would find the place. For example, a U.S. tour agency called Four Winds Bibleland Tour has a nine day, seven night, tour of the Holy Land.
On Monday, you arrive at Ben-Gurion airport in Israel. On Tuesday, you visit Jerusalem. On Wednesday morning it’s Mount Zion and in the afternoon, Bethlehem. You get the picture – – it’s a whirlwind tour. The little town of Bethlehem, how they welcome the nativity industry. There’s not much else.
Tourists might be surprised to find that Bethlehem is in the territory of Palestine, home to 32,000 Arabs and Christians who live there. After the tourists are gone, the Arabs will call their town Bayt Lahn.
Jews want to turn the clock back even further than the beginning of Christianity. They prefer golden times before that troublemaker came along 2,000 years ago, rumoured to be the Son of God, the Messiah. Jews dream of a return to ancient glory where “the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones (2 Chronicles 1:15).”
Dreams and daily experience are as different as day and night for modern Jews and Palestinians. Not only is it a land of unfulfilled dreams, it’s a place where “the other” is a plague upon the land.
Names, like designs for the Holy Land, have power. Words and language are a way of calibrating thought. For some Israelis, “Palestinians are like cancer. There are all sorts of solutions to cancerous manifestations. For the time being, I am applying chemotherapy,” says Moshe Y’alon, Israeli Chief of Staff.
Understandably, Palestinians have a problem with this point of view. The Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, calls it “verbicide.” As someone whose uses words in his craft, he feels “attacked by the apartheid hate language of Israeli generals.”
Palestinians want to turn the clock back too, but only a few decades. They prefer the way things were before the Jews descended on the land to carve Israel out of Palestine in1948. Barghouti still remembers that time as a child growing up in the eastern hills of Palestine.
When fellow Palestinian arrived from afar, running for their lives, Barghouti asked his father what they were running from. His father told him that their homes had been destroyed by “Zionist brigades that declared the State of Israel.”
“The battle for language becomes the battle for the land,” says Barghouti in the August, 2003, issue of New Internationalist magazine. As far as Israelis are concerned, he no longer lives in his childhood home of east Palestine, they call it the West Bank or the Territories. The Israelis propose changing the name again to Judea and Samaria, to evoke the biblical entitlement of Jewish suburbs.
The Holy Land is tiny -one-half the size of Nova Scotia, one-fortieth the size of B.C. You need a magnifying glass to see it clearly on a globe. But it’s also magnified by conflicting visions and realities.
The focus of so many conflicting dreams and truths on this tiny bit of land has heated it up -as happens when sunlight catches a magnifying lens and the subject catches fire.