General: December 2002 Archives

Bethlehem will go without Christmas this year.

BETHLEHEM - There'll be no Christmas tree in Manger Square. No festive lights. And no singing.

Palestinian Christians decided yesterday to strip the traditional symbols of joy from the celebration of the birth of Christ in the Holy Land to protest Israel's clampdown on Bethlehem.

The Bethlehem municipality will not put up lights or decorate the tree opposite the Church of the Nativity, said Mayor Hanna Nasser, a Palestinian Christian.

Israel said it is simply fighting terror - and has no choice but to stay put as long as militants living in Bethlehem are planning new murderous acts.

But to begin to understand what it means to live in an occupied city, it helps to hear from the inside. Paola Michael teaches English in Bethlehem. Here she writes about the momentary lifting of a 24-hour three-week long curfew. The Israelis had suddenly announced a lifting of the curfew from 10 am to 4 pm.
The school day was supposed to end at 3:30 p.m., since the curfew was going to be reimposed at 4.

Then, at 1:30, out of the blue, the Israelis changed their minds and announced the curfew again. They had jeeps patrolling the streets and soldiers throwing tear gas and fake noise bombs to scare people to go home.

Imagine the classrooms! Parents running to get their kids and make it home before an Israeli jeep caught them. Teachers running to a bank to get cash to buy food for the next few days for their families.

Except that the bank had run out of cash, so people were trying to find anyone who could give them money. The lines outside the banks were just outrageous.

On top of that, it was pouring, foggy, slippery and cold. It was pure hell.

I myself made it home safely through a back road, but I still only had crackers and water in my fridge to last me another four days until they lift the curfew again.

I had survived yet another day in Bethlehem.

The Guardian's series on AIDS has produced an excellent report on a great man.

The man is dying of AIDS, but he refuses to take the drugs that would keep him alive, until South Africa's government makes them freely available to the poor.

Zackie Achmat is not hungry, but tucks into the chocolate cake just the same. South African Achmat is HIV positive, yet refuses to take the antiretroviral drugs that could prolong his life. But he does boost his immune system with protein - with chocolate cake.

Achmat is not a shanty dweller unable to afford the drugs; he is not a so-called "Aids dissident" who believes the drugs are poison; he is not mad, and he is not suicidal. Zackie Achmat, according to Nelson Mandela, is a national hero: an ordinary man whose extraordinary resolve could help save thousands of African lives, at the cost of his own.

At a reception in Johannesburg last week, South Africa's former president turned to Achmat and asked him, with cameras rolling, to take the antiretrovirals. "Give me, as an old man, your promise that you will now take your medicine." Not for the first time, the national hero, dressed as ever in T-shirt and jeans, said no.

A few days later, in a suburban Johannesburg garden, between mouthfuls of cake, he explains why. "It is a personal issue of conscience. I have become middle class but my brothers are working class, and if they were infected they could not afford the medicines."


For a closer and very personal look at AIDS and those living with AIDS, AIDS activism, South Africa, how the world works, and Zackie Achmat, head for the Gramercy Theatre tomorrow, saturday, for a 5:15 showing of Greg Bordowitz's unforgetable film, "Habit."

A great heart and a great mind is gone.

BALTIMORE - December 6 - Phil Berrigan died December 6, 2002 at about 9:30 PM, at Jonah House, a community he co-founded in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. He died two months after being diagnosed with liver and kidney cancer, and one month after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy. Approximately thirty close friends and fellow peace activists gathered for the ceremony of last rites on November 30, to celebrate his life and anoint him for the next part of his journey. Berrigan's brother and co-felon, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan officiated.

During his nearly 40 years of resistance to war and violence, Berrigan focused on living and working in community as a way to model the nonviolent, sustainable world he was working to create. Jonah House members live simply, pray together, share duties, and attempt to expose the violence of militarism and consumerism. The community was born out of resistance to the Vietnam War, including high-profile draft card burning actions; later the focus became ongoing resistance to U.S. nuclear policy, including Plowshares actions that aim to enact Isaiah's biblical prophecy of a disarmed world. Because of these efforts Berrigan spent about 11 years in prison. He wrote, lectured, and taught extensively, publishing six books, including an autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War.

Unfortuantely I cannot find an image online, but there's an incredible photograph on page B4 of today's NYTimes which appears, I guess without any intended irony, and it says it all. The image is one of two which ostensibly only illustrate holiday tree lighting ceremonies, one at Lincoln Center the City's official cultural capitol and the other on the corner of Wall Street which serves as the entire nation's money capitol.

The front of the Stock Exchange is completely covered by an enormous American flag (there since September, 2001) and its columned porch also supports, somewhat redundantly, three smaller (twenty foot long?) versions, while standing in the middle and totally blocking what should be the ancient public thoroughfare known as Broad Street is the enormous cult symbol known as the Christmas tree.

MONEY + FLAG + CHRIST How can we miss the point?

In case anyone is worried, yes the Lincoln Center Plaza photograph shows that the American flag is prominently displayed there as well, if not with the total abandon shown further downtown.

This page is an archive of entries in the General category from December 2002.

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