Nothing says Season’s Greetings quite like a Christmas card with a picture of the wall separating Bethlehem in the West Bank from Israel.
At least, this seems to be the thinking of If Americans Knew, an organization aiming to delegitimize US support for Israel. The group is selling postcards that appear to be a visual rendering of the Christmas carol, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night.” Only in this scenario, there is a tall concrete barrier blocking the men and animals’ path as the Star of Bethlehem shines above.
A long message, saying that Israel has turned Bethlehem in to a virtual prison for Palestinians, is printed on the postcard.
“Israel has confiscated almost all the agricultural land in the area for illegal settlements, making it impossible for many Palestinian farmers to continue tending their land. Outside the town, the fields where shepherds once watched their flocks are being filled by Israeli housing blocs and roads barred to the descendants of those shepherds,” it says.
The front of the card features an image apparently attributed to the world-known anonymous street artist Banksy. However, it does not appear that the elusive Briton has endorsed this project.
“Our designer found this image on the Internet, and various sources say it is by Banksy. Since he or she has never denied this, we thought we should include this credit,” Alison Weir, founder of If Americans Knew, told The Times of Israel.
According to Weir, her organization has sold and distributed free of charge these types of cards (albeit with different artwork) for a number of years. Since 2005, they have distributed 160,000, and they expect to send out 12,000-15,000 this year.
“These are actually not Christmas cards in the traditional sense, since they don’t have a place to write a message and do not include envelopes for mailing. However, this year we are also producing a Christmas card version that has both. We’ll be announcing these within the next few days,” she said.
Her organization has also put up a billboard with the same design and message in Atlanta, and it hopes to put up more.
When asked about the decrease in Christian population in Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank in recent years, Weir attributed it to the Israeli occupation, rather than to Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“While pressure-cooker like conditions will invariable cause ethnic tensions, the reality is that Christians and Muslims (and Jews) lived together on land considered sacred by all three religions for centuries without conflict. Christian Palestinians and others find the primary cause of the decreased Christian population today to be due to the Israeli occupation and oppression,” she said.
“Images like these are common today. In Bethlehem, the wall is our reality. It is a constant reminder of the Israeli occupation. It is natural to make connection between our biblical traditions and our daily reality. When we read in our sacred texts about the difficulty faced by the wise men when they were looking for Jesus, this connects with us, and we think of the difficulty we face when we cross the checkpoint to pray in Jerusalem — if we are even allowed to cross the checkpoint,” he said after taking a look at the postcard at The Times of Israel’s request.
“This all serves to remind us of Jesus’ message of peace, and how desperately we need this peace, as it was 2000 years ago.”