Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Day in Bethlehem, or The Day I (sort of) Met Abu Mazen

What would Jesus think of this?

On Christmas Day in Bethlehem, we woke up early-ish in the morning and went to meet up with Tarek's Israeli friends outside the Church of Nativity. Because Bethlehem is Area A, Israelis are forbidden by Israeli law to go there (I guess, as everything here, it's for security reasons), but Tarek's friends are daredevils and came to see us there anyway. They were a little uneasy in the beginning, but learned pretty quickly that Palestinians don't usually care where you're from as long as you're respectful of their culture and their land.

We squeezed ourselves past the crowd into the Church of Nativity and decided not to wait in line for hours and hours to see the actual birthplace of Jesus downstairs (perhaps not very surprisingly, Christmas Day brings hundreds and hundreds of people to his birthplace), but pushed through into the newer part to attend the last few minutes of Christmas Day Mass.

There is something immensely beautiful about Catholic/Orthodox Christian chanting.

After Mass, we stopped on Manger Square on our way to have Christmas Hummus (the hummus in Bethlehem is amazing!), and attended the last few minutes of the Muslim Friday midday prayer. The Square was absolutely hushed as hundreds of men and boys gathered outside the mosque to pray. We stood behind them and watched solemnly.

Then Abu Mazen--the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas--made his way out of the mosque together with the son of Libya's leader Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam. The Square was still hushed. Tarek had squeezed his way to Abu Mazen's car with my camera, and I was squashed in between a bunch of men a little behind him. Then, right before he got into his bullet proof car, Abu Mazen smiled, put his hand up and waved to us (mainly to Tarek, but the others thought it was to them), and the crowd went crazy and started whistling and cheering.

Mahmoud Abbas on Manger Square

We took our Israeli friends to Aida Refugee Camp and I started crying. But more about that in my next blog post.


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