THE SLOPES OF BETHLEHEM

(A CHRISTMAS STORY)

It was just a few days before Christmas, and Abu-Abdul-Mohammed-Raffi sat on the porch of a small abandoned wooden home, in the middle of the of the fauna near to the old village of Artas. He was smoking from the old pipe of hashish he carried, feeling its warmth spreading through his body.
Near to him just north beyond the slope, was the famous town of Old Bethlehem. He might meet friends from Jamaica by the name of Khaleel; they were to have met in Bethlehem years ago, and spend some time together, and they had organized to meet the Arab community in the village and town. It seems that the Jamaican’s ancestors came from this area of Palestine.
He had visited them while he was in Jamaica, when and he had lectured on the faith of Islam. He was expecting them, yet he could not locate them, and he had to wait until the next day to make that connection. Picking up his A-K 47 machine gun, and other small armaments, pistol, explosive plastic, and signal contact, he put them in a corner of the living room. He then settled to sleep; for, there was a 50% chance of action expected to-morrow from his guerrilla activities
But David’s children knew generally where he was, and they would be looking for him by tomorrow. Until then, he had the time.
He heard the crunch of shoes from the right, then from the left, so he quickly picked up the machine-gun, and hid behind the bare wall or against a partition. He said nothing, but just waited for any dialogue.
A voice said ‘ Salaam ’ , a greeting meaning “Peace”. The other voice came a bit later, ‘Shalom”; the language of the Jew, also saying ‘peace.’ Then, “’Shakur”‘ a language common in Iran, and Pakistan. “’Give thanks always”’.
Abu gave credence to his peaceful presence, by crying out “’Salaam, Salaam Alicum’, stepping out from behind the partition.
“’So you also come in peace, Arab; rarely does an Arab come in explicit peace; and what about you, Pakistani? Your Indian brothers always said about you, ’you are treacherous”’.
”Let India say what India wants. Allah knows all. Allah is the One that sits in judgement. But Israel should stop the work on the Bomb, and allow us to live in peace” replies the Pakistani.
‘’ Peace to you Pakistani, it appears that you and your people do not like peace. I wait for my land in a just cause’’, replied the Jew. “’ It is our truth’’
Abu looked at the two men in disbelief. “So are we going to fight it out here? After we wished and offered each other peace, justice, and truth. It is no wonder Allah looks at us in doubt, wondering whether hashish and the desert air drive us to madness.”’
Looking at the Jew, Abu continues, “”Israel, reflect on your words; we all have our God to worship, whatever we think he might be. We all have our beliefs, and our truths. What is truth, is it unchanging? We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?”
Isaac the Jew looks at Abu, the Palestinian; “Truth is what we need to take us from conflict, then after all is said and done, we shall demand our right to live, and the justice of our cause. We have lived on this land for 2000 years, and it is ours.”
“So why did you leave it, Jew?” remarked the Pakistani, Mahmoud, while Abu restocked his pipe, lit the Hashish, and prepared to speak:
“If Justice is what you seek, Jew, consider this: In the course of natural and sincere Justice, none of us shall see salvation, not one. Hence we beseech Allah for mercy, and it is this prayer that teaches us to render the deeds of mercy, and this prayer which shows Allah our natural empathy.
There was some silence after Abu’s comment; Pakistani smoked his cigarette, Isaac took a little book from his body-pack, and was reading it in silence, besides a smoking kerosene lantern. Abu smoked his pipe considering the conversation before, and its unusual turn. It seems we do not always forget the conflicts of our life, and they remain with us until the conclusion of our lives, Abu thought.
Through the window of the house came the sounds from the chapel over the hill, as if they were singing hymns, carols, or sharing a mass. Abu turned to his associates, and said:
“This is the 24th of December, and it is almost Mid-night. I do not believe we are in the mood for sleep. Shall we go up the chapel and see the Mass? It will be something to see, now that, (smirking) we have peace on the table? There is nothing else we can do; and I hope we have a gentleman’s agreement we shall not fight.”
All the men murmured their willingness to go; and they left the quiet comfort of the home walking up to the ridge on which the Chapel rested. As they walked the sounds became louder, and it was clear that almost everyone was singing. Abu thought that when he was a child, he attended many masses, some elaborate, and some that were humble. Looking at the building when they were almost there brought him the concern, that they were all different, from different ideas of life; of similar religions, yet they had to be fighting each other soon, until perhaps they were annihilated.
Yet they were in the company of each other, remarking, conversing, as though they were together a significant amount of time, as friends. There was silence after the Ave Maria was sung, in Latin, and Abu guessed that the Mass or Carolling were finished. No, there was one other carol:
“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shinneth, the Everlasting Light, the hopes and dreams of all the years are met in thee, to-night.”
That verse he remembered from his childhood, for his inspiration from the Almighty. He stopped and prayed to the God he never knew, and probably would
Never see. Yet his faith remained.
He looked across to the Pakistani, who was also Christian, who signalled that he too, was moved by the carol. Isaac the Jew, also nodded in agreement, for he was in a similar mood of faith. When the carol was completed, and people left the Chapel, it was once again dark, except that the stars seemed especially bright. They walked back to the old house, strangely holding hands, for the faith in Christ was a strong binder of souls. They had some sleep, and in the early morning picked fruit from the pear tree nearby.
The Jew looked at them, and almost laughingly said, “’If you see me in your gun sights, please do not shoot.”’ They all laughed and decided to go in their various directions, Abu toward Bethlehem where he hoped to find his guest. Isaac moved away toward the Jewish border, really not too far. It was a small town.
The Pakistani, and the Iranian comrade, headed south towards Tehran, and the late dawn was empty once again.
What were they fighting for? Abu thought, almost in the town. Who would be likely to win the battle of brothers? The Jews, the Arabs, or the Russians and the Americans, who were all involved, and of course the British. What would they gain except perpetual anarchy? He looked up and at the entrance of a boarding House; he saw his friends and hurriedly paced to catch them.
The Jew was involved in a firefight as soon as the border approached. The Pakistani and his friend caught up with a traffic of soldiers, who gave them a ride to near their destination, and by time they reached Tehran they were tired and hungry.
Who is your friend? Surely Christ is a friend, if you know that he existed. That was the problem: He hardly may be seen, and his people have lost faith. Wars and disbelief was the order of these recent days. Oh judgement, thou are fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.

(1394 words) Ramesh Sujanani©

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