From: Gatz Holden <gatzholden@gmail.com>
Date: Dec 27, 2007 8:06 AM
Subject: The story of One of The Last Christians Of Bethlehem
T


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 website below:
 
http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/video/index.html?refId=3241&nav=NGC-Main_DL1  
 
 
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:  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/16/world/middleeast/16cnd-israel.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin
 
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 ( claireanastas@gmail.com ) 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.
 
1.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/505173.stm
 
2.  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9403E5D91F31F937A35750C0A9649C8B63
 
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 in Bethlehem:
 
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2007/12/24/wedeman.bethlehem.christmas.cnn?iref=videosearch

 
http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/12/24/bethlehem.xmas.ap/index.html?iref=newssearch


 
Thank you and may God bless you,

--
Stephen Murray
Boston College '03
792C N. Kalaheo Ave.
Kailua, HI 96734
e-mail: gatzholden@gmail.com
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."