Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and Jesus, but today it is an open-air prison, occupied by Israel's military forces and encircled by Israel's wall.
The Exodus of the Christian population is directly related to the misery and injustice they endure under a brutal military occupation.
Putting Christ back in Christmas should mean remembering that he too was born, lived and died under a brutal military occupation.
And that is why, I became one of many American speakers with eye witness experiences of occupied Palestine who will spend this season bringing to places of worship, education and community centers a film of Bethlehem 2009, produced by the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights/AAPER.
AAPER is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to inform the American public about the human and national rights of the Palestinian people and the role of the United States in the Middle East.
We are also seeking Americans with a conscience to send this message to President Obama through the fill in form accessible through the link at the end:
Dear Mr. President
Last year, you were swept into office on the hopeful promise of redemptive change. You inspired the nation by repeating the phrase, "together, we will change the world." For many Americans, your words were not merely the final lines of a campaign speech, but a call to action for a new historical moment.
Nowhere is that call more urgently needed than in the troubled land of Israel and Palestine, where U.S. policy for the last 60 years has tragically and dramatically failed. Since 1967, the United States has granted Israel more than $100 billion worth of our country's weapons and funds. To what end? Israel is now better armed, but less secure, than it was 40 years ago. Even those Americans who purport to support "Israel's security" must question whether Israel's means matches their own ethics and ends.
And what of the Palestinian people? For more than 60 years, they have lived as second-class citizens, subject to Israeli laws that discriminate against them on the basis of their ethnic and religious status. For more than 40 years, more than 3.5 million Palestinians have lived under the occupation of a foreign military power. Not one Palestinian born in the West Bank or Gaza Strip under the age of 40 has ever known the sweet taste of freedom. As Bob Dylan once asked, "How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free?"
His subsequent question stands as a moral challenge to every American: "And how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?" There comes a time when turned heads must be straightened, when closed eyes must be opened, when guarded thoughts must be spoken, when muted voices must be raised, when the sound of silence must be broken. That time is now. The time for a change has come.
As Americans, the change that we seek is a policy toward Israel and Palestine that upholds the interests and ideals of the American people and that includes the incorporation of three interdependent principles:
First, the United States should support the freedom and equal rights of the Palestinian people by conditioning our country's economic and military assistance to Israel on Israel's complete withdrawal of its soldiers and settlers from occupied Palestinian land and the reversal of Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian Christians and Muslims. As a result of what some have called the United States' "special relationship" with Israel, we are uniquely positioned to assist the people of Israel in achieving the existential security that so many have so long sought. But we do Israelis, Palestinians and Americans no favor by simply granting Israel's government our weapons and funds without insisting that it uphold our interests and ideals.
Second, the United States should support those Israelis that have already made peace with their Palestinian neighbors. No longer can we maintain blind faith in Israel's political leaders, whose soaring words about pursuing peace with the Palestinian people have been rendered hollow by their shameful deeds in violating the basic rights of the Palestinian people. The United States must instead support those Israelis whose words about peace are rendered authentic by their heroic deeds in pursuing peace, from standing against the demolition of Palestinian homes to helping rebuild them, from working against the uprooting of Palestinian trees to helping replant them, from documenting abuses of Palestinian human rights to physically and legally challenging them. While their numbers today are small, their potential is large. And, in the famous words of Margaret Mead, "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Help us to transform the moral authority of this small group into a mass movement, for when people lead, governments follow. So it will be in Israel.
And third, the United States should support those Palestinians who seek freedom and equality through nonviolent actions against Israel's occupation and discriminatory laws. No longer can we reflexively support unelected, but ideologically and tactically expedient, political leaders and violently oppose elected, but ideologically and tactically bankrupt, political factions. In doing both, we undermine our country's claim to stand for democracy and good governance the world over. There is a third way -- there are Palestinians seeking freedom and equality through nonviolent means. Help us to transform the potential of this important group into political power and that political power into permanent peace, for when people lead, governments follow. So it will be in Palestine.
These are principles that the overwhelming majority of Americans can support, principles that will lay the foundation for equality in Israel and Palestine, peace in the Middle East and sustainable security for the peoples of the United States, Israel, the Middle East and beyond. These are the principles on which we will build a great new American movement -- an American Movement for Palestinian Rights.
We know that we stand on the right side of history; we believe that the American people will stand by our side; and we hope that you will join us.