This article was previously published in The Bridport News
‘Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!’ Surely one of the best known and much loved of the carols sang at this time of year.
Its author, Philip Brooks was a minister at Holy Trinity church in Boston in the United States and he penned the words for his Sunday school after a visit to Bethlehem in 1868.
I have been blessed over the years by three visits to Bethlehem. And each visit has been sadder than the last.
Today, Bethlehem, which is situated within the Palestinian Authority and is some three miles south of Jerusalem, is more akin to a large prison. Seemingly without irony, the Israeli Tourist board greets visitors with the words ‘Peace on Earth’ in huge letters.
The trouble is they are painted on the eight metre high ‘security wall’ which wends its way around Palestinian lands and, in the case of Bethlehem, cuts it off.
Pilgrims and tourists pass rapidly through the huge security gates and guard towers.
For residents the delays can drag on for many hours and it’s been known for women to give birth in cars or for people to die in ambulances waiting to get through.
Of all peoples one would think the Israeli’s would know the horror of creating ghettos.
The Church of the Nativity was identified as a special place of reverence by the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine in the fourth century.
The Christian community is now tiny in the town. Caught between the Israelis and Palestinians life has become incredibly difficult.
I always inwardly sigh when someone says that religion is the cause of all bad things in the world. Not only is it wrong, it’s intellectually lazy. For centuries the communities got along in Bethlehem.
Rather than ’religion’ it’s politics and nationalism that is the root of the current troubles.
If I visit Bethlehem again I hope the wall is gone. If it had been there two thousand years ago Jesus might have been born in a queue rather than a stable.