Even though he is very busy this time of year giving gifts to children all around the world; this Christmas season Santa Claus took some time of and came on an early visit to Palestine. He did not come with gifts but came to stand in solidarity and bring hope to Palestinians suffering from the continued occupation of their land. He came to bring hope to the people of Bethlehem where on a daily basis farmers and villagers are having their land stolen for the building of the Separation Wall and the expanding of illegal settlements.
On the 21st of December Santa joined the weekly nonviolent protest. This protest takes place in the Southern villages of Bethlehem every Friday and it includes Palestinians, internationals and Israeli nonviolent activists working together to oppose the military occupation. Every Friday, the nonviolent protest is faced with tens (sometimes hundreds) of heavily armed Israeli soldiers. This Christmas Friday was not any different and even Santa was not surprised.
In a procession calling for “peace on earth starting with peace in the Holy Land,” Santa led the march to where the confiscation of land and the construction of the Wall were taking place. The Israeli army, in its normal response, used violence and heavy arms to block the peaceful procession. Several protestors were injured and one Palestinian was arrest (later released).
Even in the midst of the violent response Santa called on the Israeli soldiers to seek peace and end violence and the occupation. He called upon these young Israeli soldiers to recognize that they have the right to refuse to serve in this brutal military and that this refusal is the greatest gift they can give themselves, their family and even their people. Israeli soldiers were ordered not to talk to or interact with any of the protestors, even Santa, but he knew that in their heart they heard the message of hope.
After the protest was over Santa disappeared. We assume he went back to his busy gift giving schedule. He came here to give hope but left with a smile knowing that hope for peace and justice exists in the Holy Land and this is the gift we give to all nations this Christmas season.