In the little town of Bethlehem, they grieve

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 20, 2023

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The Big Story:

Christmas will mark nearly three months since Israel began to pound the Palestinian territory of Gaza in retaliation for the October 7 Hamas massacre, and in empathy, sympathy and grief, there will be no Christmas in Bethlehem.

  • Bethlehem, which is synonymous with the birth of Jesus, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank part of the Palestinian Territories.
  • In November, Palestinian leaders of various Christian denominations in Bethlehem decided that the devastation, bloodshed and suffering in Gaza, less than 50 miles away, left no place for Christmas cheer in their town. So, no giant tree and sparkling lights in Manger Square, a focal point for Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. And no Christmas parade.
  • Cancelling Christmas celebrations means there are few visitors to the fourth century Church of the Nativity, famous for the grotto that’s said to mark the exact spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.
  • And in the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, a short distance away from the Church of the Nativity, there is a disturbing ‘rubble nativity’ scene in an unusual manger. The pastor has placed a baby Jesus in debris – broken paving stones and concrete – to symbolise, he says, Gaza’s suffering children “being pulled from under the rubble on a daily basis…Jesus is in solidarity with those who suffered”.

The Backstory:

  • Calls for Israel to stop its bombardment of Gaza grew louder as the toll of dead Palestinians approached 20,000.
  • Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani criticised Israeli forces for allegedly shooting and killing people in a Christian compound in the Gaza Strip, according to Reuters.
  • As I found on a Christmas visit to Bethlehem a few years ago, the tourism and business opportunities at that time of year are crucial to a town with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the West Bank.

This Week, Those Books:

  • A travelogue that covers Bethlehem by one of America’s greatest writers.
  • An unusual offering on Bethlehem by the world’s most famous mystery writer. 
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