I met with Carol Sansour in Abu Dhabi, who is part of the Open Bethlehem Project, an international campaign to raise awareness and support for Bethlehem. She was born there in 1972 and lived through the Israeli occupation, the administration and military control of the Palestinian National Authority, the building of the segregation walls and the two intifadas.
When I was younger, Christmas was special, I felt particularly connected spirituality then. We would take part in the patriarch procession at Manger Square and then attend midnight mass. The next day we would have our big family Christmas lunch. My grandfather and father used to go to the fields to chop down a Christmas tree, which we would decorate with homemade ornaments; it was authentic.
A Home No More
Today, Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims are escaping Bethlehem in droves for a better life abroad. The Christian population in particular has declined significantly due to the overall difficulties of living in Palestine and the prison of the Israeli governments segregation wall that surround it. In 1950, Bethlehem and the surrounding villages were 86% Christian. But by 2016, the Christian population dipped to just 12%, according to the former Bethlehem mayor, Vera Baboun.
The World At Large
After speaking with Carol, I questioned the true meaning of Christmas. Bethlehem, one of the most sacred places in the world, is now a jail, caging in even the most basic freedoms of Palestinian men, women and children. Generations of traumatised people are being forced to endure this unlawful occupation-aberration. I can’t even begin to imagine how their minds, body and space are being affected. How can the world let this happen?
Today, Carol and her family can no longer access the field to get the trees, since the area is now under Israeli control and the walls don’t permit them to enter. “Christmas has become very commercial now, with fake trees and forced joviality,” she said. “It’s become a delusion of what’s really happening in my town.” Carol and her family now receive the patriarch at the wall gates rather than Manger Square.
Christmas has become a political event in Bethlehem. How can we celebrate when you live in a prison and there is no beauty, only scars?
Carol now lives and works with her family in Abu Dhabi. She returns every year to visit Bethlehem in hopes that her son does not lose the connection to their hometown. She told me that the only hope for Palestine and Bethlehem is justice.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.