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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Below the shadow of battle in Gaza, Jesus’ conventional birthplace is gearing up for a subdued Christmas

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BETHLEHEM, West Financial institution — Bethlehem is gearing up for a subdued Christmas, with out the festive lights and customary Christmas tree towering over Manger Sq., after officers in Jesus’ conventional birthplace determined to forgo celebrations because of the Israel-Hamas battle.

The cancellation of Christmas festivities, which usually draw hundreds of holiday makers, is a extreme blow to the city’s tourism-dependent economic system. However joyous revelry is untenable at a time of immense struggling of Palestinians in Gaza, stated Mayor Hana Haniyeh.

“The economic system is crashing,” Haniyeh advised The Related Press on Friday. “But when we evaluate it with what’s occurring to our folks and Gaza, it’s nothing.”

Greater than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed and greater than 50,000 wounded throughout Israel’s blistering air and floor offensive towards Gaza’s Hamas rulers, in response to well being officers there, whereas some 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced. The battle was triggered by Hamas’ lethal assault Oct. 7 on southern Israel wherein militants killed about 1,200 folks, most of them civilians, and took greater than 240 hostages.

Since Oct. 7, entry to Bethlehem and different Palestinian cities within the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution has been tough, with lengthy strains of motorists ready to move navy checkpoints. The restrictions have additionally prevented many Palestinians from exiting the territory to work in Israel.

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Metropolis leaders fret in regards to the impression the closures have on the small Palestinian economic system within the West Financial institution, already combating a dramatic fall in tourism because the begin of the battle. The Palestinian tourism sector has incurred losses of $2.5 million a day, amounting to $200 million by the top of the 12 months, the Palestinian minister of tourism stated Wednesday.

The yearly Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem — shared amongst Armenian, Catholic and Orthodox denominations — are main boons for the town, the place tourism accounts for 70% of its yearly revenue. However the streets are empty this season.

With most main airlines canceling flights to Israel, over 70 inns in Bethlehem have been compelled to shut, leaving some 6,000 staff within the tourism sector unemployed, in response to Sami Thaljieh, supervisor of the Sancta Maria Resort.

“I spend my days consuming tea and occasional, ready for purchasers who by no means come. As we speak, there isn’t any tourism,” stated Ahmed Danna, a Bethlehem store proprietor.

Haniyeh stated that whereas Christmas festivities have been cancelled, non secular ceremonies will happen, together with a conventional gathering of church leaders and a Midnight Mass.

“Bethlehem is a vital a part of the Palestinian neighborhood,” the mayor stated. “So at Midnight Mass this 12 months, we’ll pray for peace, the message of peace that was based in Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born.”

George Carlos Canawati, a Palestinian journalist, lecturer, and scout chief, known as his metropolis “unhappy and heartbroken.” He stated his Boy Scout troop will conduct a silent march throughout the town, in mourning of these killed in Gaza.

“We obtain the Christmas message by rejecting injustice and aggression, and we’ll pray for peace to come back to the land of peace,” stated Canawati.

The keenness of Bethlehem’s Christmas festivities have lengthy been a barometer of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Celebrations have been grim in 2000 at the beginning of the second intifada, or rebellion, when Israeli forces locked down elements of the West Financial institution in response to Palestinians finishing up scores of suicide bombings and different assaults that killed Israeli civilians.

Occasions have been additionally tense throughout an earlier Palestinian rebellion, which lasted from 1987-1993, when annual festivities in Manger Sq. have been overseen by Israeli military snipers on the rooftops.

The sober temper this 12 months is not confined to Bethlehem.

Throughout the Holy Land, Christmas festivities have been placed on maintain. There are 182,000 Christians in Israel, 50,000 within the West Financial institution and Jerusalem and 1,300 in Gaza, in response to the U.S. State Division. The overwhelming majority are Palestinians.

In Jerusalem, the usually bustling passageways of the {Old} Metropolis’s Christian Quarter have fallen quiet because the battle started. Retailers are boarded up, with their homeowners saying they’re too frightened to open — and even when they did, they are saying they would not have a lot enterprise.

The heads of main church buildings in Jerusalem introduced in November that vacation celebrations can be canceled. “We name upon our congregations to face robust with these going through such afflictions by this 12 months foregoing any unnecessarily festive actions,” they wrote.

On the altar of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran church, a revised nativity scene is on show. A determine of child Jesus wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh is perched atop a pile of rubble. The doll lies beneath an olive tree — for Palestinians, a logo of steadfastness.

“Whereas the world is celebrating, our youngsters are beneath the rubble. Whereas the world is celebrating, our households are displaced and their properties are destroyed,” stated the church’s Pastor, Munther Isaac. “That is Christmas to us in Palestine.”

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