A recent article in WAFA, a Palestinian news site, described a bizarre pre-Christmas ceremony in which Jesus was described as a “Palestinian guerrilla fighter” and the Arab Christians were presented with the greatest holiday gift: the Intifada and its martyrs.
In Birzeit, north of Ramallah, a ceremony was held on Saturday to light up the Christmas tree. In attendance was Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh who is the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, the Governor of Ramallah Dr. Laila Ghannam, and the head of Sebastian Churches for the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna.
It should be noted that Birzeit (the well of olives) is historically a village with a majority Christian population and a minority Muslim population. In the 1945 statistics the population was 1,560; 570 Muslims and 990 Christians. The current population is 4,529 with approximately 2,200 Christian Arabs. No Jews live in Birzeit.
Shtayyeh conveyed the greetings of President Mahmoud Abbas to the people of Birzeit, saying “The tree that we light today is our tree, as Maryam Al-Batool (Mary the virgin) is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an by name so she is our lady.”
He added, “We are fortunate that we were born on this land, the cradle of religion and the land of the prophets. Bethlehem is the city where Jesus was born, and the city of Jerusalem is where our Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, ascended to heaven. Jerusalem is the closest point to heaven and is, therefore, the capital of our Palestinian state.”
The Palestinian Prime Minister noted that Birzeit represents “the spirit of coexistence, love, and brotherhood.” Ironically, the PA PM cited an example of this coexistence; Sharif Khalil Taibe, a student at Beir Zeit University who was shot and killed in 1984 in a confrontation with the IDF that was intentionally incited by the PA under the direction of Yasser Arafat.
Shtayyeh added, “Christmas is a Palestinian national holiday, and Jesus was a Palestinian guerrilla fighter, standing against injustice, calling on the citizens living in Birzeit to support their town. Christians are the salt of the land and they must hold on to their land, and we are working together for freedom from the occupation and to end it.”
He added, “We must adhere to our rights and the time is coming. Today we celebrate in Birzeit and tomorrow in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Palestine after its liberation from the occupation. And in Gaza, as well, after completing the national unity with the ballot box and returning it to the Palestinian people.”
Shtayeh, a Muslim, was then honored with the lighting of the Christmas tree.
Shtayeh, who has been in office since April, is the senior advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas on negotiations with Israel. Shtayyeh has objected to humanitarian projects that would improve the lives of Gazans. Last summer, he objected to a hospital that was built as part of an agreement between Hamas and Israel. Last week, Shtayyeh objected to plans for a US hospital that will be built near the Gaza border, as well as the industrial cities, ports and floating islands. He claimed they “embody the US plan that refuses to acknowledge the political demands and national rights of the Palestinian people.”
It is to be assumed that Shatyyeh’s hope is to turn the Gazans against Hamas. Hamas and Fatah (PLO-PA) establishing a Palestinian national unity government after Hamas candidate Ismail Haniyeh won the elections in 2006. That unity government collapsed when the two factions clashed violently shortly after the elections. There have been several attempts at reconciliation but no elections have been held since Hamas took over Gaza.
Shtayyeh’s call for elections in Gaza is ironic since he was appointed to his position by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently in the 14th year of a four year term.
Sheikh Essam Rumana was also at the Berzeit Christmas ceremony. He congratulated the elders of the town on celebrating Christmas, expressing his hope is that “we will celebrate the when the occupation has disappeared in Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem).”
He added, “We celebrate the illumination of the birth tree of Jesus, peace be upon him, who preached the birth of our Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, and we celebrate this occasion and also in conjunction with the anniversary of the first intifada, during which our people were presented with thousands of martyrs and wounded.”