In Bethlehem, it is Christmas in mourning amid the continued Gaza struggle

The usually bustling biblical birthplace of Jesus seems like a ghost city on Christmas Eve, with celebrations in Bethlehem, situated within the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution, referred to as off because the struggle in Gaza continues.

The festive lights and Christmas tree that usually enhance Manger Sq. are lacking, as are the throngs of international vacationers who usually collect every year for the vacation. 

“It is a very unhappy Christmas. Individuals are watching the information, they’ve family and friends members in Gaza,” Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian theologian and former pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, informed CBC’s Day 6.

“Once they look and see the genocide going down there, they don’t seem to be up for celebrations and likewise they’re offended that the world can’t even agree on a ceasefire.”

PHOTOS | Gaza in ruins: Houses, faculties and hospitals erased

This 12 months, the same old nativity scene in Manger Sq. — that includes child Jesus, Mary, Joseph and cattle — is positioned amid rubble and razor wire. This scene, Raheb stated, is impressed by photographs and movies of individuals being pulled from the rubble in Gaza. 

A inhabitants in mourning

Most years Bethlehem basks within the central place it holds within the Christian story of Jesus’ life, born there in a secure as a result of there was no room for his dad and mom on the inn, and positioned in an animal’s manger, the humblest of all potential beds.

Some 2,000 years later, pilgrims often flock to the reputed location of that secure in Bethlehem’s Byzantine-era Church of the Nativity, the place most Christmases there are joyful shows of lights and timber in Manger Sq..

However with Israel’s marketing campaign in Gaza having killed greater than 20,000 folks, in response to well being authorities within the Hamas-run enclave, the largely Palestinian inhabitants of Bethlehem within the Occupied West Financial institution are in mourning too.

LISTEN | Festivities cancelled this 12 months amid Israel-Hamas struggle: 

Day 69:16Palestinian Christians put together for a subdued Christmas in Bethlehem

The town of Bethlehem within the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution is claimed to be the birthplace of Christ and usually attracts worshipers from around the globe at Christmas however Mitri Raheb, a Christian Palestinian theologian who was born and raised in Bethlehem, says lots of the festivities have been canceled this 12 months due to the struggle between Israel and Hamas.

Christians make up round two per cent of the inhabitants throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories and have a smaller proportion in Gaza, in response to Defending Holy Land Christians, a marketing campaign organized by the Heads of Church buildings in Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the struggle, triggered by a Hamas assault on Israeli cities on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 folks, largely civilians, has stored away nearly all of anticipated international vacationers hoping to rejoice Christmas in Bethlehem.

Pope condemns ‘terrorism’ techniques

Within the lead-up to Christmas, Pope Francis condemned the continued killing in Gaza and steered Israel was utilizing “terrorism” techniques within the area. 

In keeping with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, an Israel Protection Forces (IDF) “sniper” killed two ladies earlier this month, whom the pope named as Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar, as they walked to a convent of nuns within the compound of the Holy Household Parish.

The Patriarchate assertion stated seven different folks have been shot and wounded as they tried to guard others.

Scouts maintain an indication in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, on the day of a go to by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, to the Outdated Metropolis of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. (Mussa Issa Qawasma/Reuters)

“I proceed to obtain very grave and painful information from Gaza,” Pope Francis stated on Dec. 17. “Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this occurred even contained in the Holy Household parish advanced, the place there aren’t any terrorists, however households, kids, people who find themselves sick or disabled, nuns.”

An Israeli International Ministry spokesperson stated the incident was nonetheless beneath overview and had no quick touch upon the Pope’s phrases, the Reuters information company reported.

“The IDF solely targets terrorists and terror infrastructure and doesn’t goal civilians, regardless of their faith,” the Israeli army stated.

‘That is what occurred to the Holy Household’

Whereas celebrations are muted in Bethlehem, former pastor Raheb stated “the story of Christmas itself is of nice significance and essence” this 12 months. 

He drew similarities between the as soon as pregnant Mary being on the run from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and 50,000 pregnant Palestinian ladies in Gaza having nowhere protected to show as we speak. 

Raheb additionally pointed to Herod, the King of Judea, ordering the homicide of youngsters in Bethlehem in an try and kill child Jesus, as just like the hundreds of youngsters killed in Gaza. 

WATCH | ‘Unhappiness and sorrow’ mark Christmas in Bethlehem

‘Bethlehem is celebrating Christmas with disappointment and sorrow,’ says Palestinian tourism minister

Christmas in Bethlehem won’t have its typical pleasure and might be with out vacationers within the wake of ongoing violence in Gaza, says Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah. ‘Sadly this 12 months, we’re receiving Christmas with out vacationers from the world and with out Palestinians from different governorates due to the struggle on Gaza,’ she stated.

“Their houses are destroyed. They’re delivering [babies] in tents on the streets,” Raheb stated. “That is what occurred to the Holy Household 2,000 years in the past.”

As Canadians put together for the vacation weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a message on Christmas Eve highlighting the values of Christmas.

“For Christians, it is also a time to rejoice the delivery of Christ and the values he embodied. Values like compassion, kindness, and hope,” he stated. “That is not simply the true spirit of Christmas, it is also the true spirit of Canada.”

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