An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
December 23, 2005
Too still for the people who live there. There are plenty of rooms at the inn and plenty of unsold souvenirs, especially the town's signature olive-wood creche sets.
As the Millennium approached, peace and independence seemed to be in sight, and the birthplace of Christ happily prepared for years of joyous and prosperous Christmases.
Christmas trees - scrawny cedars to be sure, but the spirit was there - were erected in Manger Square; a Palestinian drum and bagpipe band thundered out "Gloria in Excelsis Deo"; runners for restaurants and shops dressed in Santa Claus costumes and cheerfully accosted tourists' cars; and Yasser Arafat showed up to sing carols in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve.
Then the dream soured almost instantly.
In September 2000, the second intifada broke out, with riots, bombings, the lockdown of whole towns, and a massive and intimidating Israeli security presence. The tourists and pilgrims quit coming, and their caution seemed more than justified when in 2002 Palestinian gunmen holed up in the fortresslike Church of the Nativity for a six-week siege.
That Christmas only 2,000 visitors came to Bethlehem for Christmas. Last year, there were 18,000 and this year the town expects to welcome 30,000, still far short of the 100,000 Bethlehem once hoped for. Representatives from Bethlehem even came to Washington last month to urge people to visit and, not coincidentally, to protest the large Israeli-built wall and the arduous security checkpoints.
It is a cruel irony that a town celebrated for the ideal of peace on Earth and good will toward men benefits so little from either. Maybe one day.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com