Bethlehem looks like a ghost town on Christmas Eve

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The celebrations that were scheduled to take place in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve were cancelled owing to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. As a result, the normally bustling biblical birthplace of Jesus appeared to be a ghost town on Sunday.

Not only were the throngs of foreign tourists and joyous youth marching bands that regularly congregate in the West Bank town to celebrate the holiday absent, but the sparkling lights and Christmas tree that ordinarily decorate Manger Square were also absent.

The vacant square was monitored by dozens of Palestinian security officers that were present.

“This year, without the Christmas tree and without lights, there is nothing but darkness,” remarked Brother John Vinh, a Franciscan monk from Vietnam who has been residing in Jerusalem for the past six years.

Bethlehem looks like a ghost town on Christmas Eve

As he looked at a nativity scene in Manger Square, which included a baby Jesus wrapped in a white shroud, he was reminded of the thousands of children who had been slain in the battle in Gaza. He stated that he regularly visits Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, but this year was very somber for him.

The sight was ringed by barbed wire, and the grey rubble did not reflect any of the bright lights and flashes of color that would ordinarily be present in the area during the holiday season.

The town’s economy has been dealt a significant blow as a result of the cancellation of the Christmas celebrations. During the holiday season, tourism accounts for practically all of Bethlehem’s revenue, which is believed to account for 70 percent of the city’s total revenue.

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The cancellation of flights to Israel by a number of major airlines has resulted in a decrease in the number of tourists from other countries. The closure of more than seventy hotels in Bethlehem, according to the officials of the local government, has resulted in the unemployment of thousands of people.

The opening of gift shops on Christmas Eve was a long process; but, a handful of them did open once the rain stopped pouring down. On the other hand, there were not many guests.

“We can’t justify putting out a tree and celebrating as normal, when some people (in Gaza) don’t even have houses to go to,” said Ala’a Salameh, one of the owners of Afteem Restaurant, a falafel restaurant that is owned by a family and is located just a few steps away from the area.

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“Our message every year on Christmas is one of peace and love, but this year it’s a message of sadness, grief, and anger in front of the international community with what is happening and going on in the Gaza Strip,” said Hana Haniyeh, the mayor of Bethlehem, in an address to the gathering. Hana Haniyeh was speaking in reference to the situation in Gaza.

During Israel’s air and military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 50,000 have been injured, according to health officials in Gaza. Additionally, around 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the offensive.

On October 7, Hamas launched a horrific attack on southern Israel, during which militants killed around 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians, and abducted more than 240 prisoners. This attack was the spark that ignited the war.

Approximately three hundred Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during the Gaza war, which has been followed by an increase in violence.

The violence has had an impact on people’s lives throughout the West Bank. Access to Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities in the territory that is occupied by Israel has been difficult since October 7.

There are huge lineups of automobiles waiting to pass through military checkpoints preventing them from entering the territory. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been stopped from leaving the region in order to find employment in Israel as a result of additional restrictions.

For the first time since October 7th, Amir Michael Giacaman opened his shop, which is called “Il Bambino,” and it sells olive wood sculptures in addition to other gifts.

Due to the fact that individuals who worked in Israel have been unable to leave their homes, there have been no tourists, and because of this, very few local inhabitants have any extra money.

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