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Bethlehem is empty of joy – no Christmas celebration this year

Palestinian Christians held a solemn Christmas vigil in Bethlehem on Saturday, at the church located on the site where it's believed Jesus Christ was born.

Christmas celebrations have been cancelled in Bethlehem this year. Normally there would be thousands of tourists and pilgrims on Manger Square, but there are hardly anyone around. The nativity scene has been surrounded with rubble and razor wire. Instead of festive celebrations, a few local Christians gathered together to pray for peace at candlelight. Madeleine, one of the locals said: “The city is empty from happiness, from joy, from kids, from Santa. There is no celebration this year”.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, a friar at the vigil, said: “Bethlehem is a message. It is not a city, it is a message of peace to the whole world. From this sacred place we convey a message of peace … stop the war, stop the blood, the killing and the revenge”

According to Protecting Holy Land Christians – a campaign organised by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem – Christians make up around 2% of the population across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Town Mayor Hanna Hanania lit a candle in Manger Square and said: “This Christmas comes to Bethlehem in a different shape. Nowadays Bethlehem, as any other Palestinian city, is in mourning. We feel sad.”

They rang the church bells in the morning of the 24th of December, as some locals gathered around Jesus in the rubble nativity installation. At the same time Arabic songs played out on the speakers, one calling for salam- peace – for children. Some people were waving a Palestinian flag.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was wearing the traditional black and white chequered Palestinian scarf when he entered the Church of Nativity. He briefly said this was “a very sad Christmas”.

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