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A very different Christmas ...

Andy Walton writes from Bethlehem ...

Andy Walton writes from Bethlehem …

If you asked me what my usual Christmas looks like, I’d be able to reel off a list of pleasant activities. All families have their traditions, and we’re no different. Visit Mum and Dad. Eat a wonderful dinner, lovingly prepared by my mum and sister. Watch some Wallace and Gromit and so on ...

I’d have been perfectly happy to do these things as usual this year. But instead, I find myself writing this blog with tear gas drifting through the town where I’m living.

My Christmas in occupied Palestinian territory will involve getting up at 3.30am to monitor a military checkpoint, visiting Bedouin villages whose tents are under threat of demolition, and observing a demonstration in a village where Palestinian land is set to be taken for use by the Israeli Government.

This is all part of my role as a Human Rights Observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

An initiative of the World Council of Churches set up 12 years ago, volunteers from the UK have been visiting ever since. We spend three months here with people from 20 different countries. We work closely with Israeli and Palestinian peace campaigners and advocate a peaceful solution to the conflict here based on justice and human rights.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967. We think both Israelis and Palestinians would be safer and more prosperous if that occupation was to end, the Separation Barrier was to come down and a negotiated settlement could bring both sides together. This would also isolate those on both sides who are determined to be violent.

It is a strange time of year to be away from home. But it is a wonderful time of year to be in the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, we will visit Bethlehem to celebrate the coming of the Messiah with local and visiting Christians. But Bethlehem is a place scarred by the conflict, and people there are suffering.  Please pray for them and for the many, many amazing people from both sides who are working for an end to the occupation and the violence.

This is a very different Christmas for me and my team. And I’m missing home and my family’s traditions, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else this Christmas. I pray that as we remember the Prince of Peace, His peace would be brought closer here.

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