PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH


22 december 2001


A Christmas Story:The Nativity in the Occupied Territories


James Petras
CSCAweb


The village was occupied, the stores were closed, the social welfare offices were bombed, their own house was in ruins and Joseph was out of work. No one had the money to hire a carpenter. And even if they did, the Occupation did not allow any new buildings or repairs or even building materials.

When Mary went out in the early dawn, the cold air brushed her face and she wrapped her scarf tightly around her neck and cheeks. She went to the well and filled her bucket with water. She struggled as she bent over, her large belly was in the way. All night she felt spasms and knew it was almost time. They had tried to find a place to stay but her relatives lived in the next town, a place called Bethlehem. The main roads were blocked by tanks and armored carriers and soldiers with automatic rifles.

Joseph washed his face and helped Mary to lay down on the blanket covering the dirt floor in their makeshift tent. He ran his calloused hand through her hair and gently patted her stomach. Mary smiled, through her discomfort. She was only a young girl, in her late teens, almost twenty years younger than the bearded Joseph.

" I have spoken to Sami, the shepherd. He's agreed to take us to Bethlehem on the backroads tonight. Joseph packed their meager belongings. At midnight, Mary mounted the donkey and Joseph shouldered their essentials and Sami led the way. As they climbed the rocky path, each jolt sent a sharp pain running through Mary's thighs and belly. As they approached Bethlehem they saw a bright light sweeping the outskirts of the town. Sami pointed to a fence at the perimeter. " There is a space between the fence and the rocks and you can cross there but you must leave the donkey behind"

Joseph looked suspiciously at Sami, "Leave the donkeyNever!"

Sami was offended by Joseph's suspicions. " Then you must go through at the Israeli checkpoint! I'll leave you now. May God be with you."

Joseph looked up. Mary was dozing. He led the donkey down the hillside to the main road. The bright light blinded them. A loud harsh voice boomed over a loud speaker.

"Stop or you will be shot! Immediately!"

"Dismount and throw your bag over to the side and raise your hands. Now, or you will be shot!", the hidden voice barked.

Joseph placed his bag on the ground and helped Mary dismount. She was awkward and sleepy and badly frightened.

"Come forward with your hands up, especially you ­ the fat Arab!"

Mary, with her arms held high in the air, suddenly felt the need to urinate, to relieve the pressure from her heavy belly.

When a soldier signaled Joseph to come forward, shouting, "Put your hands behind your head!", Mary felt alone.

Then Mary was ordered to come forward, slowly. The soldiers fingered the triggers of their Uzis, aimed at her head and belly. "Open your coat and lift up your dress!", a faceless voice shouted. There was a pause. Mary was ashamed. Only Joseph had seen her naked. She lifted her dress.

A soldier fixed his binoculars on her belly. "No bombsjust fat or a belly full of baby".

He handed the binoculars to his senior officer. He looked and then barked, "Lift up your slip, don't play the virgin with us!"

Mary was confused, her face flushed. She lifted her slip and a spotlight glared on her huge belly hanging over her panty.

"All of it, come on you Arab whore, you might stick something besides your husband's dick between your legs!"

Mary wished for death as she reached down and lowered her panties. The light shone on her dark pubic hair.

"Turn around!"

She turned.

"Now get dressed! And you, with the beard. Stand up!"

Two soldiers approached him and pointed to Mary to step forward.

Mary and Joseph were interrogated for several hours. About where they came from, why they left, why their house was destroyed - " You must have done something!", the Israeli officer injected - where they were going, why they were traveling at night and by the backroads, who were they going to stay with, for how long ­ and above all their relation to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Jihad, PFLP. Every direct and simple response evoked a smirk of suspicion.

Mary could feel the spasms coming closer and closer. Her feet were numb with cold. Joseph, a barely educated carpenter who never belonged to any organization and Mary who never voiced a political opinion were totally confused.

The officer poked his thumb in Mary's belly , "Another subversive. You terrorists breed like rabbits."

Mary clinched her teeth. A harsh and long spasm ran through her.

The Israeli officers conferred among themselves. " They are clearly agents. Let's release them and follow them to their handlers."

The senior officer told them to proceed.

It was still dark when they entered Bethlehem and Mary could barely ride with the contractions.

Joseph was disoriented. He couldn't find the street or the house. No one was out in the street because of the curfew. The donkey twitched its nose and led them to a shed where some goats and sheep lay among the straw. Joseph helped Mary down and she lay with her head propped up on a bundle of hay. The donkey began to nibble at the straw.

Mary was in full labor and a cry escaped through her gritted teeth. Joseph helped as best he could. Miraculously the baby was born and immediately began to cry. A light went on, the owners came out, a Palestinian couple. The wife cleaned the baby and covered Mary with blankets.

Their house was crowded with relatives who had fled Nablus and Ramallah to avoid the Israeli missiles. Here among the Christian Palestinians of Bethlehem, it was sure to be safer.

The following night, a bright star shone in the sky and the Three Kings who came from across the sea passed the Israeli checkpoints unobserved, protected by the Lord ­ so they thought. And they came upon the shed that housed the new-born, named Jesus, and brought gifts and kneeled to their Savior sleeping in an improvised crib that Joseph had made.

Suddenly there were shouts and the butt of rifles crashing through doors and the shatter of glass. A helicopter came roaring over and suddenly there was an explosion, and the shed blew up. Arms, legs, sheep heads, goat legs, human torsos and a baby's head flew into the velvet black sky.

Israeli radio announced that three suspected Arab terrorists, fleeing from Afghanistan, were killed in a hideout in Bethlehem after crossing the border. The Israeli Government apologized for any civilian deaths. The US media repeated the story while Washington congratulated the Israeli Government for its role in fighting international terrorism. Jesus only lived for one day.