This Week in Palestine

Christmas Issue no. 32 - December 2000

The Massacre of the innocent

A Christmas Reflection

By The Rev. Dr .Naim Ateek

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi came to Jerusalem from the East in search of a royal baby whose birth they had seen foretold by the stars. They stopped to enquire from Herod, the local king, the whereabouts of this child. Herod's religious advisors gave the opinion that a royal birth would take place in the nearby village of Bethlehem. The Magi set out on the last stage of their journey, with request from Herod to report back to him where the birthplace was, so that he too could go and pay homage to the child. They did not realize, however, that Herod was a tyrant who felt threatened by the prospect of any rival, however tiny, to his unchallenged rule.

The Magi went to Bethlehem, found Jesus, paid him their honor, gave him their precious gifts and returned home without going back to Herod, having been warned of his ill intentions. Wishing to leave nothing to chance, Herod ordered his security forces to sweep the Bethlehem area and kill all children under the age of two.

In the Christian tradition, Herod's cold-blooded action is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, and its victims are regarded by the church as martyrs. It is so bering reminder that the coming of the One whose life represents goodness and truth, peace and justice to the world, provoked an evil response from the ruling power. The innocents were helplessly caught between the domination of violent man and the reign of the Prince of Peace.

The Christmas message for this year takes cognizance of the story of King Herod, the baby Jesus, and the massacre of the innocents. The events of the past two months of protest in Palestine have seen the killing of many children, youths, and even elderly people by the Israeli army. We have witnessed the destruction of many homes and businesses and a siege imposed on three million Palestinians. The state of Israel has been brutally gunning down hundreds of people and injuring thousands whose only crime is their desire for a life of freedom and the independence of their own country from the oppressive occupation. King Herod allowed himself to stoop down to the basest of all feelings. He stripped himself of all semblance of humanity when he ordered the killing of innocent children.

This scenario is being repeated in a different guise. Almost 40%of those killed have been less than 18 years old. Some younger teenagers died by bullets fired from further away than their stones of protest could possibly reach. These young Palestinians posed minimal threat, no real danger to their killers. Why do Israeli soldiers target protesters in the upper parts of their body, given the use of such powerful weapons? This expresses the intent to destroy, not deter. These deaths are a crime against the value of human life. They dehumanize not only the killers, but also those who command them. At this Christmas time, when we remember the message of peace and love that came down from God to earth in the birth of Jesus Christ ,our celebrations are marred by the destructive powers of the modern day "Herods" who are represented in the Israeli government. The message of this Christmas is already overshadowed by the sound of war, violence, and state terror. Indeed, violence breeds violence, and innocent people have been killed on both sides. But the original sin is the violence of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. When the Israeli leadership calls daily for the termination of the violence, for us this means, the occupation must end. It is the occupation that is evil and violent. It is partheid in its ugliest form. Once the occupation ends, the violence will end. There is no other proper sequence. The sooner the Israeli leadership understands this, the quicker we will achievement an enduring peace. Our faith tells us that ultimately, it is not the "Herods" of this world that contribute to the well being of society. The "Herods" will come and go. Indeed, while they are with us, they use all kinds of destructive force to kill, maim, and create havoc.

Power blinds them. They are deluded in believing that they can steer history as they wish and charter its course. They are fools.

The God of history who is the God of justice and peace will not allow it. The movement of history is toward the liberation of people and against their subjugation and oppression. It is for freedom and democracy and against tyranny and apartheid. History will condemn those obstructionists who knew not the things that make for peace. They heap untold destruction and misery upon themselves and many innocent people.

History will exonerate those who strive, like Jesus Christ, for peace and goodwill among people. Our world needs leaders who work to establish justice and peace and have a true knowledge of God, the one who desires justice and who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The message for this Christmas is a call to struggle against all forms of dehumanization: domination, apartheid, racism, occupation, oppression and ethnic cleansing. We must strive for all that leads to genuine peace: justice, reconciliation, sharing, non-violence, forgiveness, neighborliness, and respect for the rights and dignity of others.

Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre (JMCC),

PO Box 25047, East Jerusalem, Palestine

Tel. 972-2-5819777, Fax. 972-2-5829534

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