Photos from Time and Mustafa Hassouna (Andalou Agency for Getty)
It is impossible not to come across Bethlehem in the most random places of the Philippines at this time of the year. The biblical city has pride of place in the annual Christmas frenzy, and it is a tradition for the biggest cathedrals or even many homes to put up a Belén display.
The Belén of our displays (the name is simply Spanish for Bethlehem) understandably focuses on the triumphant moment of Christ’s birth, often passing over the disquiet conveyed in the Gospel of Matthew in silence: that of the jealous King Herod eager to see the newborn child dead and the resulting massacre of the innocents.
Dread was no stranger to the nativity story and has never been so to the city of Bethlehem, much less so today, where gold, frankincense and myrrh give way to rubber bullets, tear gas and skunk water.
Dread was no stranger to the nativity story and has never been so to the city of Bethlehem, much less so today, where gold, frankincense and myrrh give way to rubber bullets, tear gas and skunk water – gifts to those impudent enough to dare learn at the temple of the streets in occupied Palestine. The situation in occupied Palestine is as dire as ever and an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight – yet somehow, whatever sense of spiritual connection Filipinos feel they have with this land has not made them better informed about its fortunes.
This is no surprise for a conflict as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian one. It might be tempting to wade one’s way back in time through thousands of years of history, but in fact, the conflict as we know it today is best understood in the context of events that date back only to a few centuries ago.