From: Gatz Holden <email@example.com>
Date: Dec 27, 2007 8:06 AM
Subject: The story of One of The Last Christians Of Bethlehem
I wanted to share with everyone this Christmas what Bethlehem is like today.
Elisabeth and I were fortunate enough to have a Palestinian Catholic woman
from Bethlehem visit our parish in Hawaii this fall. Her name is Claire
Anastas. She lives with her husband, four children, and some other
family members right up against the wall that Israel built to stop Islamic
terrorists in the West Bank from committing terrorist attacks inside Israel.
Claire's situation is particularly unique because the wall closes in 3 of
the 4 sides of her home. The wall was put up in one day around her
house. When her children went to school that morning they could see
out of their windows, but when they came home their view was blocked by the
wall. The reason why the wall covers 3 sides rather than just 1 is
that the Jewish holy site, Rachel's Tomb, is close to Claire's home.
The wall was planned in such a circuitous route by Israel to keep Rachel's
Tomb on Israel's side of the wall. Rachel was the second and favorite
wife of Jacob from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Her tomb is near the historic road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, which throughout
the last 2,000 years had always been a center of economic activity for travelers
going from city to city and pilgrims coming to see the place where Jesus
Christ was born and The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This economic
activity related to tourism and travel had supported the lives of Christians
living in Bethlehem. When Israel built the wall the road was cut off,
and so was most of the economic activity. The incomes of Christians
living in Bethlehem have been devastated since the wall was built and many
have left Bethlehem to live in foreign countries. Claire is a strong
woman with strong faith and she has chosen to stay in Bethlehem with her
family and to tell her story to the world so they might know what is happening
to Christians in Bethlehem today. Claire is not a political person
on one side of the conflict and she did not come to speak against Israel
or Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups living in and around Bethlehem.
She only had two simple requests when she came to speak to us about how the
wall has affected her life and the lives of other Christians.
1. She would like anyone planning to make a visit or pilgrimage to
Bethlehem to consider staying at a hotel or inn in Bethlehem instead of staying
in hotels in Jerusalem and taking the bus in. The process of taking
the bus has hurt a lot of the Christian craft shops in Bethlehem that rely
on tourism because visitors are just taken directly to the Church of the
Nativity and spend little time anywhere else in the town.
2. She would like people to consider her craftshop when they are looking
for Christian gifts at Christmas or any other time of the year. Her
craftshop is called Handicrafts from Bethlehem. The website is www.anastas-bethlehem.com
The crafts are sculptures of nativity scenes, Christmas tree ornaments, crosses,
and other items that are carved from olive trees that grow in and near Bethlehem
by Christian craft makers and artists who live in Bethlehem.
Christians in Bethlehem are struggling to survive today and still feeling
unwelcome 2,000 years after Mary and Joseph could not find a room at an Inn
for the birth of baby Jesus. Claire is seeking aid and patronage from
those who would like to support sustainable economic opportunity for Christians
living in Bethlehem so they can afford to stay at their homes.
If you would like to see exactly what Claire's house looks like and what
the wall is like you can watch the trailer at the National Geographic Channel
Claire talks about her situation in the National Geographic special "The
Last Christians of Bethlehem." The entire program will be on again
on Wednesday January 2nd at 4 pm eastern time.
Most of us have formed our own opinions and hear much about the conflict
between Israel and Islamic terrorist groups operating in Palestine.
My intention in writing is not to say that Israel is wrong for building the
wall to defend itself against Islamic terrorists. I consider myself
a supporter of Israel in its conflict with Islamic terrorists. I would
just like to share how the wall has negatively affected Christians whose
best interests were sacrificed when the wall was built. The innocent Christians
who are caught in the crossfire are often forgotten and overlooked by both
sides in the conflict and by media reports about the conflict. I was
inspired by Claire's story and especially touched that somehow she made it
all the way from Bethlehem to Hawaii, so that I had a chance to meet her.
She was sponsored by a graduate student at the University of Hawaii named
Morgan Cooper. Morgan met Claire in Bethlehem when she was doing research
for her project on the effect that the wall has had on women living in Palestine.
I would like to thank Morgan for bringing Claire to Hawaii.
I was also troubled by the realization that I and all American taxpayers
are responsible for the wall that was built around Claire's house in a small
way. The United States has given billions of tax dollars in military
and economic aid to Israel in past years and recently announced an agreement
that will give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next decade.
Article on military aid to Israel:
In a small and indirect way these tax dollars taken from our paychecks have
helped build and maintain the wall that has caused Claire and other Christians
in Bethlehem so much hardship. Perhaps members of Congress are not
aware of this and we should contact them to let them know Claire's story.
To me Claire's story represents some of the core teachings of Christ.
[[Be not afraid. You are not forgotten. I am with you always.
Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst
of them.]] I know that Christ is with Claire and the Christians of
Bethlehem through the Holy Spirit. I believe that the story of the
first Christians of Bethlehem (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) is shared by the
so called "last Christians of Bethlehem." Both felt unwelcome and both
faced serious threat from armed men. There is a star in the sky that
shines brightly for both. The light of the star represents the gifts
of peace, hope, faith, and charity that came on the first Christmas and guided
the magi bearing gifts from the east to a manger in Bethlehem. If we
all learn and live the teachings of Christ, the first gift of Christmas from
God, we can make peace and hope real in the world. The gifts of the
magi are symbols and prophecies as well. Gold represented Christ's
Kingship. Frankincense represented Christ's role as a priest.
Myrrh represented Christ's sacrificial death to redeem mankind.
Claire's e-mail ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is listed in the to line of this
e-mail. Please take a moment to encourage her in whatever way you can
to let her know that she is not alone. The only way that the last Christians
of Bethlehem will survive is if Christians around the world stand in solidarity
with them. Some experts have predicted that almost no Christians will
be left in Bethlehem in 10-15 years if emigration trends continue on their
current course. There have already been controversies about mosques
being built near and in front of Christian churches in the Holy Land.
We can expect more of these controversies to erupt as Muslims gain power
and Christian populations are further reduced. The articles below show
that Christian solidarity can stop mosques from being built to cast a shadow
on Christian churches and boom Islamic calls to prayer from loud speakers
into Christian churches five times a day.
I hope all of those that I sent this to will share Claire's story with others,
especially their priests or pastors who may not be aware of the situation
in Bethlehem for one reason or another. Please also share her story
with anyone you know who may be interested in hosting Claire and sponsor
her travel to allow her to speak at a school, college or church.
Some good news this Christmas is that many more visitors went to Bethlehem
this year than have come in past years. With our prayers and action
this trend can continue to help support the Christians living in Bethlehem.
Please view the video and article linked below for stories about this Christmas
Thank you and may God bless you,
Boston College '03
792C N. Kalaheo Ave.
Kailua, HI 96734
mobile: (413) 209-2985
"Become the change you wish to see in the world."
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil in this world is for good
men and women to do nothing at all to stop it."