Dear Mr. President,
Your faith teaches that today's celebration is marking the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Christians from around the world will be making pilgrimages to the tiny church of the Nativity, lighting candles and saying prayers, passing through the apartheid wall that confines Palestinians in the West Bank. When I visited this church in the shimmering heat of high summer, we walked past walls still scarred by bullet holes from 2002 gun battles between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters. Perhaps, not being Christian myself, I failed to experience the reverence I was meant to feel for the site of Jesus' birth, but I could not separate my horror at the grotesque oppression (and it's violent legacy) of the residents of Bethlehem from my respect for the teachings of Christianity's central figure.
For all of those American Christians who are today sitting in churches, saying their prayers or singing carols, I hope that the harsh restrictions on the freedoms and opportunities of those, like Jesus, guilty of the unforgivable crime of having been born in Bethlehem are not forgotten. It seems so unjust that Christ's disciples are happily celebrating his birth when the citizens of his birthplace, Muslim and Christian alike, live under occupation in fear and confinement. Christmas may be a time of celebration, but I would hope that remembering the reason for this holiday and the ongoing (and overlong) fight for basic human rights for Palestinians might not be so easily disentangled.
I hope that you have had a good and peaceful holiday, despite the burdens of your office. As an individual with rather more control over the fate of those living in Bethlehem, I hope you, at least, have not forgotten them today.
Two well-written pieces on this can be found at Ma'an news and at Al-Jazeera. I urge all of you to read them.