Star City

by minton on March 21, 2019

In Agnes Handal’s hometown, Christmas season is a happy time with numerous parades and festivities. Musical groups called scouts come from miles around to march and play their drums and bagpipes, celebrating with local townfolk and tourists of various religious backgrounds.

Agnes, who is a junior actuarial science major at Roanoke College, showed pictures and videos of her home to a group at Salem Presbyterian Church. Her story becomes especially interesting when you realize that her family has been living in the same area for more than 500 years. They live in Bethlehem in Palestine.

For a Christian, walking down Star Street in the path followed by Wise Men, then into Manger Square and Nativity Church would add a huge emotional dimension to the season. This is true for Agnes, who is proud of her Christian heritage. Her siblings all have holy names (Agnes means “lamb”).

Where it all becomes complicated is the political context of Bethlehem. Agnes says her house is a ten-minute walk from Jerusalem, but since she is considered Palestinian she would need a special permit to take the walk. She showed pictures of a nine-foot wall on a border of Palestine and Israel. A distantly-remembered past when the region’s melting pot of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others learned to co-exist has given way to today’s politically charged power struggles.

Most of this seems to be set aside at Christmas, as Muslims join in the centuries-old traditions surrounding December 25 in Bethlehem. In this historic place, for a brief time each year, people converge to celebrate the past and create hope for the future.