Where will the Chilean miners go this Christmas?

Nov 09, 2010
*Special to asia!

Local reports say the 33 men who riveted the world with the survival-and-rescue story will be coming to Israel. But that may be just half the story. Where are they really going?

While the point mooted in this week's post may seem insignificant to some, it has been written up anyway for the sakes of those for whom it really does matter. (and in the name of one of the bastions of journalism: accuracy)

Israeli newspapers reported that the miners and their families (mistress and wife in tow for one, as an article noted) will be taking a seven-day all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. The country's tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov, who himself came up with this invitation, said this will be "a spiritual journey in the holy land over the Christmas holiday, during which they would say prayers of thanksgiving for their safe rescue".

The miners' itinerary has not been published but it could include the Kinneret, or the Sea of the Galilee where Jesus performed his miracles, and Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, all of which are popular Catholic pilgrimage sites.

However one suspects that the star attraction on this trip during the occasion celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ would be Bethlehem, the place where he was born.


39 A restaurant selling local favourites (In Bethlehem, of course!)


The tourism ministry is right to tout this as the miners' trip to Israel, since Christian holy sites like the Galilee and Nazareth do lie within Israel. But Bethlehem, well that's another story.

It is located in the West Bank and under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The people who live there are not Israelis by anyone's measure. They are Palestinians.

So more accurately, this Christmas, the Chilean miners will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

A simple case of “You say 'to-may-to' and I say 'to-MAh-to'”, you say?

It would be, as long as the Canadians don't mind people saying the Niagara Falls are in the US.

Or the French, that the Louvre is in London.

Or Malaysians, that the Petronas Towers are in Singapore.

Or the Chinese, that the Great Wall is in Russia.

Borders may be just a line, and it is easy to confuse places in neighbouring states, but no one likes the mix-up.

Wait, Palestine is not a country like France and Britain and the US and Canada, you say?

No, it isn't, but it sure is not for lack of trying.

The Palestinians have been fighting for an independent country pretty much since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Now they are on the verge of going to the United Nations to seek international support for its establishment.

Obama-mediated peace talks of the last couple of months have taken them nowhere.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continually thumbs his nose at them, with new announcements of Jews-only housing settlements being built in what is internationally recognised as occupied Palestinian land.

Even the US president - who can at long last see clearly the situation - conceded today that he saw “enormous obstacles” in Middle East peace.

Optimism is fading fast over a resolution between the two sides. In the grander scheme of things, the issue of whether the Chilean miners are going to Israel or the Palestinian territories as well seems like the least of the battles. But the Palestinians, like any other people, are proud of their heritage and traditions, and all that is theirs.

You don't have to take sides in this conflict, but let's at least give them their due.

You don't have to take sides in this conflict, but let's at least give them their due.

So when you read of the welcome that greets the miners and their families at Ben-Gurion Airport this Christmas, remember this: the story of the Nativity.

When the (Virgin) Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn for them. Turned away, they were forced to seek refuge in a manger which is where Jesus ended being born.

Today, it seems to be a case of "no room at the inn" of the international community of sovereign nations too for the Palestinians. For decades they have been fighting for a country.

What they do have now is the West Bank, though pockets of it continue to be governed and occupied by Israel. And Bethlehem is Palestinian.

Recognition matters the most to those who don't have it.

Let's at least give them that?


*In all fairness it should be noted that the Israeli Tourism Ministry has in the past included Palestinian areas when showing the map of Israel, it does feature Bethlehem on its website, clearly noting it as “Sites under Palestinian jurisdiction”.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi