Christians all over the world, and anyone who follows the so called Christian calendar, were looking forward to the year 2000. Plans were made for special celebrations, fireworks and other local events, and people with TV followed the arrival of 2000 in each time zone as it occurred around the 24 hour cycle. It was known as “Bethlehem 2000”.

Fences prevent Christians from attending their own church
Fences prevent Christians from attending their own church

But Bethlehem had unique problems with the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. Although it was the place where the celebration originated, it was occupied and closed off by the Israelis until mid-March 1996. Just before 2000 it had also suffered from the competition of Jerusalem which declared the 3000th anniversary of David’s kingship as an international event. It was called “Jerusalem 3000

Bethlehem had been severely neglected during the occupation, so its walls and buildings were crumbling. At the behest of the Bethlehem 2000 Committee, many nations and groups came to the rescue and helped make the town beautiful with new archways, buildings, streets, parking areas, and a Peace Center.

Unfortunately in 2001, the Israeli Defense Forces re-occupied Bethlehem tearing down many of the new structures and destroying the new streets with tanks. Water pipes were destroyed and the new toilets for a hospice were shot out. Holy Family Hospital for children was attacked several times and the children traumatized by the noise and flying glass. The statue of Mary on the tower of the Children's hospital was the victim of target practice by the army.

A Closed Shop in Bethlehem
A Closed Shop in Bethlehem

Shops and houses were bulldozed on Star Street and the Church of the Nativity was shot at from above. Soldiers built fires to keep warm by burning olive wood carvings of mangers and other Christian symbols in the shops. So, Bethlehem is not very well developed any more. But tourism and pilgrimage is increasing and new places to stay are being built. New cultural programs are being created. The new programs are discussed in the section “The Little Town of Bethlehem.” 

Bethlehem 2000?

What jubilee is this?   What celebration of Christ’s birth?
Bethlehem-–the city of the crib—
  Is closed off from the city of the shepherds.

The Shepherd’s Fields
   Have become the killing fields.
The light of the angel choir
  Is overcome by the red light of flares.
The angel voices singing “Peace on earth”
  Are drowned out by the sound of shelling 
    And the cries of frightened children.

Just as Mary and Joseph slept on the floor of a cave with Jesus
    So today
The children of Beit Sahour
The children of the Shepherd’s Fields
       Sleep on the floor to avoid flying glass and shrapnel.

In a deserted house was found a crib
    Full of glass and a half-drunk bottle of milk
Where a child was snatched up to flee
   To another room?
       To another house?
To Egypt?

What evidence did Jesus leave behind besides a crushed pile of straw?

What kind of jubilee is this?
   It feels more like Good Friday waiting for a new Resurrection.

Written By Betty Jane Bailey in 2000