The Christian community of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, announced that it would suspend public Christmas celebrations this year as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, who have been besieged by the Israeli army for almost two months. Religious services will still take place, but events and parades that usually take place in the city over the Christmas period have been canceled and no public decorations will be on display. This is a notable decision for Bethlehem, the place where Jesus is believed to have been born and where thousands of Christian pilgrims visit each year.
For the same reasons, Christmas celebrations were also suspended in Jerusalem, another very important city for Christians, and in Jordan the country hosting the highest concentration of Palestinian refugees in the world.
Bethlehem is one of the cities where the most Palestinian Christians live, along with Ramallah and Jerusalem. Palestinian Christians constitute one of the oldest communities in Christianity and today represent about 2 percent of the total Palestinian population, a small minority. They are widely affiliated with the Jerusalem Orthodox Church and other Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical churches.
Bethlehem, home to a sizable Christian community, is one of the most important sacred places in the world for Christians. In the center of the city is the Basilica of the Nativity the place where Jesus is traditionally believed to have been born, and a number of other places highly relevant to Christian religious culture, such as Milk Cave (so called because of the belief that a few drops of milk from Mary, the mother of Jesus, fell to the ground) or the Church of Saint Catherine .
During the Christmas period, events and parades are organized in Bethlehem, and the city is filled with decorations: the best known are those installed in Piazza Manger, the square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. In short, the decision to suspend the celebrations is very relevant and symbolic. Religious services will still take place, but on a limited basis and with some restrictions.
The announcement It’s done a few days ago by local authorities, who declared that they had canceled the celebrations “in honor of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza”, and that they considered it “inappropriate to organize such celebrations when a massacre takes place in Gaza » Gaza and attacks in the West Bank. » The authorities were referring both to the war in the Gaza Strip and to episodes of violence against Palestinians perpetrated by settlers, Israelis who live in the West Bank territories that much of the international community says belong to the Palestinians.
Christmas celebrations suspended in Jerusalem was announced by the local Christian community, which in mid-November called on area Christians to avoid celebrations, focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas and pray for “the victims of this war and for those who suffer from it.” are extremely in need”, thus defining a period as “full of sadness and pain”.
However, the first Arab Christian community to announce the suspension of Christmas celebrations was that of Jordan: this was announced by the so-called Council of Church Leaders, a body that deals with Christian affairs in the country in name of the government, at the beginning of November. Also in this case, the celebrations were limited to prayer only and the decision was motivated by a gesture of solidarity towards the Palestinian population of Gaza, report “in the harshest and strongest terms, the barbaric acts committed by Israeli aggression, in violation of all international norms.”
Along with the announcement of the suspension of Christmas celebrations, the Bethlehem Christian community and others also called for an end to Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip, suspended for a week thanks to a truce. Pressure was particularly placed on the United States, a country that exerts great influence over Israel. Among other things, a delegation of Christian Palestinians was welcomed to the White House in Washington on Tuesday and called for a “consistent and complete” ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.