June 22, 2024

World Information

Celebrations are halted attributable to Israel-Hamas warfare.

Individuals stroll by the Church of the Nativity, historically believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas Eve, within the West Financial institution metropolis of Bethlehem, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. Bethlehem is having a subdued Christmas after officers in Jesus’ conventional birthplace determined to forgo celebrations because of the Israel-Hamas warfare. (AP Photograph/Mahmoud Illean) AP

BETHLEHEM, West Financial institution (AP) — The usually bustling biblical birthplace of Jesus resembled a ghost city on Sunday, as Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem have been known as off because of the Israel-Hamas warfare.

The festive lights and Christmas tree that usually beautify Manger Sq. have been lacking, as have been the throngs of overseas vacationers who collect annually to mark the vacation. Dozens of Palestinian safety forces patrolled the empty sq..

The reward outlets have been sluggish to open on Christmas Eve, though a couple of did as soon as the rain had stopped pouring down. There have been few guests, nonetheless.

“This 12 months, with out the Christmas tree and with out lights, there’s simply darkness,” stated Brother John Vinh, a Franciscan monk from Vietnam who has lived in Jerusalem for six years.

He stated he at all times involves Bethlehem to mark Christmas, however this 12 months was particularly sobering, as he gazed at a nativity scene in Manger Sq. with a child Jesus wrapped in a white shroud, paying homage to the hundreds of youngsters killed within the preventing in Gaza. Barbed wire surrounded the scene, the gray rubble reflecting not one of the joyous lights and bursts of coloration that usually fill the sq. through the Christmas season.

The cancellation of Christmas festivities is a extreme blow to the city’s financial system. Tourism accounts for an estimated 70% of Bethlehem’s earnings — nearly all of that through the Christmas season.

With many main airways canceling flights to Israel, few foreigners are visiting. Native officers say over 70 lodges in Bethlehem have been compelled to shut, leaving hundreds of individuals unemployed.

Reward outlets have been sluggish to open on Christmas Eve, though a couple of did as soon as the rain had stopped pouring down. There have been few guests, nonetheless.

“We are able to’t justify placing out a tree and celebrating as regular, when some individuals (in Gaza) don’t even have homes to go to,” stated Ala’a Salameh, one of many homeowners of Afteem Restaurant, a family-owned falafel restaurant simply steps from the sq..

Salameh stated Christmas Eve is often the busiest day of the 12 months. “Usually, you possibly can’t discover a single chair to take a seat, we’re full from morning until midnight,” stated Salameh. This 12 months, only one desk was taken, by journalists taking a break from the rain.

Underneath a banner that learn “Bethlehem’s Christmas bells ring for a cease-fire in Gaza,” a couple of youngsters provided small inflatable Santas, however nobody was shopping for. As an alternative of their conventional musical march by the streets of Bethlehem, younger scouts stood silently with flags. A bunch of native college students unfurled a large Palestinian flag as they stood in silence.

“Our message yearly on Christmas is considered one of peace and love, however this 12 months it’s a message of disappointment, grief and anger in entrance of the worldwide neighborhood with what is going on and occurring within the Gaza Strip,” Bethlehem’s mayor, Hana Haniyeh, stated in an deal with to the group.

Over 20,000 Palestinians have been killed and greater than 50,000 wounded throughout Israel’s air and floor offensive in opposition to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, in accordance with well being officers there, whereas some 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced. The warfare was triggered by Hamas’ lethal assault Oct. 7 on southern Israel, by which militants killed about 1,200 individuals, most of them civilians, and took greater than 240 hostages.

The Gaza warfare has been accompanied by a surge in violence, with some 300 Palestinians killed by Israeli hearth.

The preventing has affected life throughout the West Financial institution. Since Oct. 7, entry to Bethlehem and different Palestinian cities within the Israeli-occupied territory has been troublesome, with lengthy traces of motorists ready to cross army checkpoints. The restrictions have additionally prevented tens of hundreds of Palestinians from exiting the territory to work in Israel.

Amir Michael Giacaman opened his retailer, “Il Bambino,” which sells olive wooden carvings and different souvenirs, for the primary time since Oct. 7. There have been no vacationers, and few native residents have cash to spare as a result of those that labored in Israel have been caught at dwelling.

“When individuals have extra cash, they go purchase meals,” stated his spouse, Safa Giacaman. “This 12 months, we’re telling the Christmas story. We’re celebrating Jesus, not the tree, not Santa Claus, she stated, as their daughter Makaella ran across the abandoned retailer.