Tel Aviv's Black Christmas
Religious Intolerance in Israel
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Few foreigners realize the reality of a Christmas in Israel. Most would interpret the dark streets and the overwhelming quiet as a sign that there are no Christians around. They would pay no attention to the fact that the Christmas night is darker and quieter than those immediately before or after.
"After all there aren't any laws prohibiting Christmas," they would foolishly whisper over the phone to their friends abroad, showing off their vast knowledge of Israeli legislation and their complete misunderstanding of how the Israeli society works. Some of its darkest aspects are not enforced through parliamentary legislation; that would attract too much attention to actions human societies would label as anti-democratic and as violations of basic human rights.
Densely populated and utterly small, Israel is not divided into provinces or counties, but into councils and municipalities. Interestingly, the word used for "councils" ("moatzot") is the same one as for "soviets," the Soviet Union was called "Brit HaMoatzot" in Hebrew. Municipalities and councils have the power to legislate for as long as these laws respect the Israeli one. Mostly, these "local laws" (as they are called) deal with the day-to-day functioning of that local organizations. They set parking rules, take the trash out the streets and - what else? - ah, they set rules regarding the allowed business hours. This apparently innocent point of the local bureaucracy is the tip of a dark iceberg. Invariably, all major cities forbid the public celebration of Christmas and the New Year.
On the night of Dec 31, 1999, the Israeli television broadcast a special program. Every hour, the celebration of the new year in a different location was shown. Australia, Thailand, India. Fireworks everywhere. When it came time for Israel to celebrate the moment, cities to the north and south where shown, but Israel kept dark. A black point on a luminous planet. There was no better sign that the event was considered serious, than its complete banning by the Israeli authorities.
Most foreigners visiting Israel during Christmas misinterpret reality. It isn't that there are no Christians, but that they are oppressed. If the foreigners cared about looking around, they would see quiet festivities held beyond closed doors and carefully darkened windows. If they really cared, they would analyze the Israeli government official statistics and see they are obviously cooked up; that the number of Christians is larger than reported. The facts are clear. Most major Christian denominations keep temples in Holy Land - with the exception of the Lutheran Church, which is banned by the Israeli government. Many local communities, dating back to Jesus times, are Christian. A large percentage of the Palestinian population - many of them with Israeli citizenship - are Christians. Many ethnic Jews have accepted Christ, but are considered Jews by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, which doesn't recognize freedom of religion. At least a hundred thousand persons of the 1990's Russian immigration were Christians; though they were defined as Jews by the ministry.
Yet, the Israeli government prefers to claim that reality is a Jewish-Muslim dichotomy, void of substantial links to the Christ. They forget He was one of us, that He came also for us. There is no better testimony than that of Tel Aviv's Black Christmas.
"TRUE" Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Jerusalem
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