In the manger
• Christmas: the Nativity; sharing what we have with loved ones and all those around us; the giving of gifts; and a time for peace reconciliation, love and togetherness. The new year that follows comes with resolutions and a fresh start.
These are the images and thoughts conjured in our minds when we, in this part of the world, think of Christmas. However, it's quite a different tale today for the people that live in the part of the world where the first Christmas story was told.
If Joseph and Mary were to arrive in Bethlehem today, it would be a very different place to what was described in the Bible. Checkpoints with soldiers holding semi-automatic weapons would demand your passport or id card, and ask where you are going. Not having the correct documents to hand could mean being turned away.
At Christmas, the central idea is one of reconciliation and sharing. This is a moral which we teach to our children and practise as adults. Hebron, located in the southern West Bank, south of Jerusalem, is home to around 165,000 Palestinians and 500 Jewish settlers. Here streets are divided, where Palestinians walk on one side and internationals and Jewish settlers walk on the other.
The symbols of humanity that we celebrate and remember at Christmas, to share and be at peace with one another, are not to be found here.
For people living in the Gaza Strip, what they will receive this Christmas -- and all year round -- are rubber bullets, tear-gas canisters, and live ammunition. Here a nation of Palestinians live without a home, without an identity.
Finally, new year's resolutions: we make an attempt at a fresh start, and look at ways in which we can improve our lives or make a difference to others. I beg that if you have one new year's resolution in 2012, that it will be to think about what has been written above, and decide to investigate for yourself the truth of what is happening today in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to be aware of what is happening to the Palestinian people.
Ashtown, Dublin 15