Jesus was a Palestinian Jew born in Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth and was executed as a criminal in Jerusalem. It is because of him that we celebrate Christmas. But it is in spite of him that what we celebrate is the opposite of what he stood for.
The different stories of his birth, told by Mathew and Luke in the New Testament, which are the bases for Christmas, are not filled with sugar plum fairies and sleighs filled with useless, unnecessary consumer goods. There’s nothing about a Jolly Old St. Nicholas or baked ham or candy canes. No gifts to return in a frenzied rush that replicates their purchase. No credit card bills that come due in the new year. No “Jingle Bell Rock” with Brenda Lee or “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby.
Just a poor child’s birth to fulfill a prophecy that out of life would come death and out of death would come life. That hope was improbable but possible with faith.
These birth narratives, which tell of a nativity that concludes with the grown child’s suffering, public crucifixion, death, and Resurrection – a story that lives on with the suffering of so many innocents – are, as Gary Wills puts it in What the Gospels Meant, “… far from feel-good stories. They tell of a family outcast and exiled, hunted and rejected. They tell of children killed, of a sword to pierce the mother’s heart, of a judgment on the nations.” They are stories of rejection, massacre, and a desperate flight from death at an early age. They are not what most people now consider to be the essence of Christmas since a radical Palestinian Jew’s story has been almost totally erased by the glitz and greed of getting and spending to fuel an economy geared for war and killing.
Mathew and Luke’s birth narratives are replicated again and again throughout history, presently and most conspicuously in Gaza and the West Bank, as the massacre of the innocents continues under today’s King Herod, Benjamin Netanyahu, the client king of Washington, not Rome, while U.S. politicians, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who claims to be a defender of children and opposed to U.S. war policies, support this genocide with rhetorical justifications that the Trappist monk Thomas Merton called the unspeakable:
It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience …
To the shock of so many of Kennedy’s early supporters, he claims, among other unspeakable assertions, that the Israelis have been the innocent victims of the Palestinians for 75 years, and they “could flatten Gaza” if they chose to, but instead have kindly used high-tech explosives “to avoid civilian casualties”; that they are not committing genocide intentionally. Indeed, his defense of the indefensible Israeli war crimes is widely shared by the compromised political leadership of both parties in Washinton, D.C., a place Kennedy is hoping to reach as the top of the heap, but he is contradicting all his talk about spiritual renewal and healing the divide, and it is especially galling and hypocritical as we try to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.
While the genocide of Palestinians is being documented every ongoing day now, the Gospel stories are different in that they were written after the fact and were not based on eyewitness testimony but are narratives of deep symbolic faith significance, historically wrong in places, but told to signify religious truths of the early Christian faith community.
Once there was a mother and father with their child on the run to safety in Egypt; today there are millions of Palestinian refugees on a bombed-out unarmed road of flight to nowhere but a dead-end.
A few days ago my wife and I were caring for our son’s two dogs. Down the hill as night came on, the town set off fireworks – those bombs bursting in air (Oh how lovely is war!) – to celebrate and encourage people to buy holiday gifts, what can only fairly be described as acquisitive consumer madness that many realize yet have accepted as an essential part of the Christmas message. As the fireworks exploded loudly, the dogs started to quake uncontrollably and we had to hold them tight to comfort them.
Yes, they are animals, but sentient animals with deep feelings; and yes, they are not children in Gaza quivering in fear as the Israelis bomb them night and day in savage attacks. But as we held those frightened dogs, feeling their hearts beat fast as they gasped for breath, the visceral sense of what those Palestinians must be feeling, as they hold their trembling children who are butchered as useless objects, overwhelmed me. As they are “thinned out,” as Netanyahu is reported to have said, I felt sick at heart to be living safely in a country that finances and supports such slaughter. A country in which buying and selling is the real religion, people have become commodities, and Christmas has become the celebration of such grotesqueries.
I keep thinking of the difference between human beings and things; life and death; money and power; acquisitiveness and poverty; and, as Norman O. Brown puts it in Life Against Death, “an economy driven by a pure sense of guilt, unmitigated by any sense of redemption.”
In his classic study, Brown makes clear that it is erroneous to think that the secular and the sacred are exclusive opposites, as if the secular has replaced the “irrational” beliefs of religion with clean science and logical thinking; has banished irrational superstitions with abstract, objective, quantitative, and impersonal thinking. On the contrary, he argues that the whole modern secular money complex – the spirit of capitalism – is rooted in the psychology of guilt and the secular sacred. He writes:
The psychological realities here are best grasped in terms of theology, and were already grasped by Luther. Modern secularism, and its companion Protestantism, do not usher in an era in which human consciousness is liberated from supernatural manifestations; the essence of the Protestant (or capitalist) era is that the power over this world has passed from God to God’s negation, God’s ape, the Devil. And already Luther had seen in money the essence of the secular, and therefore of the demonic. The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.
Things, just like money, beyond a certain minimum necessary for a simple life of use, do not, as everyone knows, bring happiness. This is because they are dead – excrement – the Devil’s favorite toy.
Take all those useless and superfluous objects people exchange during the holiday season. The disposable gifts that are purchased to ease the guilt of giving and receiving. Or such “objects” as an autograph of a famous person, an art work such as Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn that sold at auction last year for $195 million, Babe Ruth’s bat, Princess Diana’s evening dress ($1,148 million at auction), antlers over a fireplace and trophies of all sorts – the examples are manifold – they serve to confer on their owners a sacred prestige (etymology = deception, illusion) that is pure magic. Like vast piles of money, they are talismanic protectors against death. Their magical properties are irrational and rarely acknowledged, for to do so would reveal the absurdity of their acquisition and the pathetic nihilistic core of their owners. They are outward signs of inward barrenness, yet for those who possess these useless objects they are magic ordure.
The more expensive the objects the more social power they mystically confer, since the message is that the owner can always give it up for a pot of gold but doesn’t have to since they are sitting on a lot more gold, which is really a pot of shit. In other words, wealth, its possession and the avid desire for it, signifies power over people and that power includes using them in many ways, including their labor, and killing them if one chooses, quickly or slowly, overtly or deviously, directly or indirectly, for some people are useless objects, inferior people.
Such power is central to politics and warfare, as a quick glance at the wealth of war-promoting politicians will reveal.
It is central to the widespread thinking today that the world is filled with useless people who must be disposed of one way or the other.
It is a fundamental tenet of the World Economic Forum, the Gates-Rockefeller et al. crowd, and the racist eugenics promoters today and yesterday.
It is behind the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) biological weapons gain-of-function research, the Covid-19 propaganda, and the CIA’s and Defense Department’s distribution of the mRNA countermeasures (“vaccines”).
It is central to the hideously obscene profits of the medical military-industrial complex and the world-wide arms industry.
It is central to the genocide taking place in Gaza. For the Israeli rulers, the problem is that the Palestinians exist, so they must be exterminated.
It’s still the same old story told differently down through the ages.
Hitler enacted it against the Jews.
Once long ago, it was a Palestinian Jewish boy born in a manger destined to make trouble for the rulers of the empire who had to be eliminated one way or another. Today that child of God is any Palestinian child, destined, we are told by the rulers of Israel, to grow into a terrorist animal.
Christmas is about a birth, the birth of a boy who would become a man who sided with the outcasts, the poor, the forsaken, the gentle, and the peacemakers. His birth and life was a rebuke to the powerful and the rich who lord it over the innocent, the killers, those who profit at the expense of others, who amass wealth and useless possessions to parade their power, a show of power which, unknown to their self-obsessed minds, is a sign of their spiritual nullity.
I have nothing against Santa. I once sat on his lap and he seemed nice to my four year-old mind. He was fat and jolly. He told me I would get what I wanted for Christmas. But he forgot to tell me what Christmas was really about.
That is what I want. To remember.
Source: Edward Curtin
Photo: Wisam Basem Al Masri with her baby Nur, only one week old, on 19 October at Fatma Jatib School in Rafah, Gaza. Al Masri’s water broke on the eighth day of the fighting. So she and her husband began a journey under the bombardment to find somewhere she could be treated. There were no ambulances and there was no room in the nearby health centres, such as the Red Crescent, which were overcrowded with casualties from the shelling. Eventually they found a hospital (EFE/Anas Baba).
Herod and the Bethlehem Massacre, Part 1 (BBC, 2003)