I have received this image as a Christmas greeting from Copenhagen, from my brother Gyuri, accompanied by this letter:
My dear ones!
Now, on the second day of Christmas we still would like to wish to everyone a blessed Christmas and a happy new year.
I also attach two irregular Christmas cards to my greeting. This image represents a small crib made out of olive tree, three wise men from the East, and one wise man from Bethlehem. The wise man from Bethlehem, Tawfiq Salsaa carved the crib. At first sight it is just like any other crib of olive tree that are sold by hundreds in the shops of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, there is a small difference. The wise men cannot pay their homage to the Child, because a wall – more precisely: the Wall – separates them from Bethlehem.
The Wall that served as a model for the wall in this little crib was erected by Israel some years ago between the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories, allegedly for reasons of self-protection from terrorism. This wall, however, is not made out of olive wood, but out of five or six meters high concrete blocks, and it encloses all the West Bank. This wall virtually closes the Palestinians in a cage, and isolates them from their lands and olive plantations, from the possibilities of employment in Israel as well as from the city of Jerusalem with the best equipped Palestinian hospitals inside. Bethlehem too found itself behind the wall. From Jerusalem it can be only approached via a regular checkpoint – for tourists only, of course, but in this way even they do not really dare to hop over to Bethlehem which is only ten minutes by bus from Jerusalem. The Christian community in Bethlehem – the largest one in Palestine – feels completely let down and abandoned.
At least in our thoughts and to the extent of a prayer let us be together with those Palestinian Christians who, caught between radicalizing Islam and isolating Israel, still keep the front in the native city of Jesus.
Gyuri, who used to live for years in Israel as a Hebraist, and recently has returned for a short visit on the scene of his youth – hopefully he will also report about it in this blog – has told me in detail about Bethlehem, once crowded with tourists but now utterly deserted, about the hopeless situation of the Palestinian Christians, the calvary of the Palestinians standing for days in long queues in front of the Wall and looking forward to be let in, the ambulances turned back from the checkpoint and the humiliating and inhuman behavior of the Israeli soldiers.
The story of this novel crib by Tawfiq Salsaa quickly spread all over the world press. With the title “O little (divided) town of Bethlehem,” the NZ Herald has also published a long interview with the master. “I was thinking about how Joseph and Mary with the little Jesus escaped from here two thousand years ago from the murderers,” Salsaa says. “It wouldn’t be so easy now.” Nevertheless he has not given up hope: he made the wall in his crib detachable.