Christmas cancelled in support of PalestiniansBethlehem lies at the heart of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Around Christmas time, the city is usually vibrant and bustling as locals and tourists flock to the biblical birthplace of Jesus. However, this year, Christian churches in Bethlehem have dimmed the festive lights and canceled traditional Christmas celebrations and services. The residents of Bethlehem and the West Bank are grief-stricken this holiday season as they witness the devastating impact of Israel's brutal assault on the Gaza Strip and mourn their fellow Palestinians.

What Is the Significance of Bethlehem for Christians?

Bethlehem holds profound significance for Christians worldwide. Each year, pilgrims and tourists flock to Manger Square to partake in Christmas festivities, celebrating the joyous occasion in the very town where Jesus was born. The Church of the Nativity, standing on the spot believed to be the birthplace of Christ, is a focal point for worship and reflection during the holiday season.

Why Did Churches Cancel Christmas Services in Bethlehem?

The cancellation of Christmas services in Bethlehem is an unprecedented decision rooted in solidarity with the Palestinian population, particularly those in the besieged Gaza Strip. Through both ground assaults and extensive bombing campaigns, Israel has killed more than 20,000 Palestinian civilians and displaced nearly 85% of Gaza's population. Almost half of the dead are children. Israel's bombing campaigns have killed nearly 9,000 Palestinian children, prompting countries such as South Africa, Malaysia, and many more to take diplomatic action and label the targeted killings as genocide.

With multiple airlines canceling flights to Israel and the presence of foreign tourists dropping to almost zero, the town of Bethlehem appears empty. Although Bethlehem is in the West Bank, not Gaza, community leaders decided not to continue with festivities given what's been happening to their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

What Is the Difference Between the West Bank and Gaza?

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are two distinct territories in the Middle East, but both places are home to Palestinians who experience the harsh reality of Israel's dominance both militarily and economically. The West Bank is an Israeli-occupied territory of more than 2,000 square miles with three million people. The Palestinian National Authority exercises partial civil rule in areas of the West Bank, and the government of Israel presides over all 100 of the settlements that rise across the landscape.

In contrast to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip is a territory of only 141 square miles but has a population of more than two million people. The Palestinian Authority used to have control of the Gaza Strip, but the radical political entity Hamas seized power of the territory in 2007. Since that time, Palestinians in Gaza have had to navigate life under a total economic blockade with extensive power outages, food shortages, and regular periods without clean running water.

How Many Palestinian Christians Are There in the West Bank and Gaza?

The Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and Gaza, have a historically diverse population that includes Christians. Experts estimate 50,000 Christians are living in the West Bank and Jerusalem, while around 1,300 Christians reside in Gaza.

Palestine is home to some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Many artists and activists have garnered the public's attention by saying that if Jesus was born today, he would either be a casualty of Israel's assault and occupation of Palestine or he would be forced to lie in the rubble of devastated homes and hospitals.

While the international community argues about how to support lasting peace in the region, Bethlehem churches mourn the dead and set up their nativities on top of piles of rock and ash. The darkened Manger Square and the absence of traditional festivities underscore the harsh realities faced by Palestinians this holiday season.

Category: Holidays and Observances

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