Times were tough for Joseph and Mary. The real estate bubble crashed. Unemployment soared among construction workers. There was no work, not even for a skilled carpenter.
The settlements were still being built, financed mostly by Jewish money from America, contributions from Wall Street speculators and owners of gambling dens.
“Good thing”, Joseph thought, “we have a few sheep and olive trees and Mary keeps some chickens. But Joseph worried, “cheese and olives are not enough to feed a growing boy. Mary is due to deliver our son any day”. His dreams foretold of a sturdy son working alongside of him…multiplying loaves and fish.
The settlers looked down on Joseph. He rarely attended shul, and on the high holidays, he would show up late to avoid the tithe. Their simple cottage was located in a nearby ravine with water from a stream, which flowed year round. It was choice real estate for any settlement expansion. So when Joseph fell behind on his property tax, the settlers took over their home, forcibly evicted Joseph and Mary and offered them a one-way bus ticket to Jerusalem.
Joseph, born and raised in the arid hills, fought back and bloodied not a few settlers with his labor-hardened fists. But in the end he sat, battered on their bridal bed under the olive tree, in black despair.
Mary, much the younger, felt the baby’s movements. Her time was near.
“We have to find shelter, Joseph, we have to move on …this is no time for revenge”, she pleaded.
Joseph, who believed with the Old Testament prophets in an “eye for an eye”, reluctantly agreed.
So it was that Joseph sold their sheep, chickens and other belongings to an Arab neighbor and bought a donkey and cart. He loaded up the mattress, some clothes, cheese, olives and eggs and they set out for the Holy City.
The donkey path was rocky and full of potholes. Mary winced at every bump; she worried that it would harm the baby. Worse, this was the road for the Palestinians with military checkpoints everywhere. No one ever told Joseph that, as a Jew, he could have taken a smooth paved road – forbidden to the Arabs.
At the first roadblock Joseph saw a long line of Arabs waiting. Pointing to his very pregnant wife, Joseph asked the Palestinians, half in Arabic, half in Hebrew, if they could go ahead. A path was opened and the couple went forward.
A young soldier raised his rifle and told Mary and Joseph to get down from the cart. Joseph descended and nodded to his wife’s stomach. The soldier smirked and turned to his comrades, “The old Arab knocks up the girl he bought for a dozen sheep and now he wants a free pass”.
Joseph, red with anger, shouted in rough Hebrew, “I am a Jew. But unlike you … I respect pregnant women”.
The soldier poked Joseph with his rifle and ordered him to step back: “You are worse than an Arab – you’re an old Jew who screws Arab girls”.
Mary frightened by the exchange turned to her husband and cried, “Stop Joseph or he will shoot you and our baby will be born an orphan”.
With great difficulty Mary got down from the wagon. An officer came out of the guard station, summoning a female soldier, “Hey Judi, go feel under her dress, she might be carrying bombs”.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like to feel them yourself anymore? ” Judith barked back in Brooklyn-accented Hebrew. While the soldiers argued, Mary leaned on Joseph for support. Finally, the soldiers came to an agreement.
“Pull-up your dress and slip”, Judith ordered. Mary blanched in shame. Joseph faced the gun in disgrace. The soldiers laughed and pointed at Mary’s swollen breasts, joking about an unborn terrorist with Arab hands and a Jewish brain.
Joseph and Mary continued on the way to the Holy City. They were frequently detained at the checkpoints along the way. Each time they suffered another delay, another indignity and more gratuitous insults spouted by Sephardim and Ashkenazi, male and female, secular and religious – all soldiers of the Chosen people.
It was dusk when Mary and Joseph finally reached the Wall. The gates had closed for the night. Mary cried out in pain, “Joseph, I can feel the baby coming soon. Please do something quickly”.
Joseph panicked. He saw the lights of a small village nearby and, leaving Mary on the cart, Joseph ran to the nearest house and pounded on the door. A Palestinian woman opened the door slightly and peered into the dark, agitated face of Joseph. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am Joseph, a carpenter from the hills of Hebron. My wife is about to give birth and I need shelter to protect Mary and the baby”. Pointing to Mary on the donkey cart, Joseph pleaded in his strange mixture of Hebrew and Arabic.
“Well, you speak like a Jew but you look like an Arab,” the Palestinian woman said laughing as she walked back with him to the cart.
Mary’s face was contorted with pain and fear: her contractions were more frequent and intense.
The woman ordered Joseph to bring the cart around to a stable where the sheep and chickens were kept. As soon as they entered, Mary cried out in pain and the Palestinian woman, who had now been joined by a neighbor midwife, swiftly helped the young mother down onto a bed of straw.
And thus the child was born, as Joseph watched in awe.
It came to pass that shepherds, returning from their fields, heard the mingled cries of birth and joy and hurried to the stable carrying both their rifles and fresh goat milk, not knowing whether it was friend or foe, Jew or Arab. When they entered the stable and beheld the mother and infant, they put aside their weapons and offered the milk to Mary who thanked them in both Hebrew and Arabic.
And the shepherds were amazed and wondered: Who were these strange people, a poor Jewish couple, who came in peace on a donkey cart inscribed with Arabic letters?
The news quickly spread about the strange birth of a Jewish child just outside the Wall in a Palestinian’s stable. Many neighbors entered and beheld Mary, the infant and Joseph.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers, equipped with night vision goggles, reported from their watchtowers overlooking the Palestinian neighborhood, “The Arabs are meeting just outside the Wall, in a stable, by candle light”.
The gates under the watchtowers flew open and armored carriers with bright lights followed by heavily armed solders drove out and surrounded the stable, the assembled villagers and the Palestinian woman’s house. A loud speaker blared, “Come out with your hands up or we’ll shoot.” They all came out from the stable together with Joseph, who stepped forward with his hands stretched out to the sky and spoke, “My wife, Mary cannot comply with your order. She is nursing the baby Jesus”.