Christmas cancelled in Bethlehem in this year 2023.This time of year, Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, is typically a hive of Christmas activity and decorations, but this year, festivities were canceled due to Israel’s conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas.
The Associated Press (AP) said that dozens of Palestinian security personnel are currently patrolling the city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where there are usually tourists, marching bands, pilgrimages, and festive lighting.
During Christmas, Bethlehem events culminate in the Manger Square, drawing large numbers of tourists to the West Bank. The news wire said that barbed wire, grey rubble, and encircling security officers have replaced the Square’s brilliant decorations and lights.
Six-year-old Brother John Vinh, a Vietnamese Franciscan monk in Jerusalem, told the Associated Press in Bethlehem that a nativity scene in the Square featured a baby Jesus covered in a white shroud, which was reminiscent of the hundreds of children who were murdered in Gaza.
War-torn Gaza, located roughly 74 kilometers from Bethlehem, has seen over 20,000 Palestinian deaths since early October, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which is managed by Hamas. More than 50,000 people have been injured in the conflict, and around 85% of the 2.3 million residents of the territory have been forced to flee their homes.
After the Islamist group’s unexpected entrance into Israel on October 7, which resulted in an estimated 1,200 deaths, including hundreds of civilians, the confrontation between Israel and Hamas—which has ruled Gaza since 2007—began. Since then, Israel has fought back against Hamas, pledging to destroy the terrorist organization and its armed apparatus.
According to the AP, tensions from the battle have moved to the West Bank, where 300 Palestinians are thought to have died at the hands of Israeli gunfire. West Bank civilians are subject to stringent regulations that prohibit them from leaving the region to work in Israel and necessitate many military checkpoints.
According to the AP, tourism generates almost 70% of Bethlehem’s revenue, primarily during the Christmas season, thus the town’s economy will be severely harmed by the cancelation of the holiday celebrations.
The Afteem Restaurant, located next to the area, is owned by Ala’a Salameh, who told the AP that the company “can’t justify putting out a tree and celebrating as normal, when some people [in Gaza] don’t even have houses to go to.”
Christmas Eve is usually the busiest day of the year, according to Salameh, but on Sunday morning there was just one table occupied.
Instead of the traditional march through Bethlehem, young scouts stood with flags, the AP reported, while another group of teens — standing under a banner reading “Bethlehem’s Christmas bells ring for a cease-fire in Gaza” — tried to offer small inflatable Santas, but they were met with little interest. “Our message every year on Christmas is one of peace and love, but this year it’s a message of sadness, grief and anger in front of the international community with what is happening and going on in the Gaza Strip,” Bethlehem’s mayor, Hana Haniyeh, said in an address to the crowd, according to the AP.