The separation wall that lines the northern and western borders of Bethlehem acts as a daily reminder of occupation in one of the most iconic cities for peace on earth.
As Christmas comes near, and the world looks to the birthplace of Jesus Christ, every year the people of Bethlehem find unique ways to bring the world’s attention to the reality on the ground.
At protests across the occupied West Bank, one of the most popular ways to highlight the juxtaposition of Christmas under occupation is the Santa March.
In villages and cities, big and small, men young and old dress up as one of the most well known icons in the world to attract attention to their cause.
In Bethlehem city, just a few miles away from where Jesus is believed to have been born, the protests, as expected, turned violent.
Men dressed as Santa Claus marched down one of the main streets in city toward the towering separation wall on a mission — to bring candy and gifts to Jerusalem.
The mission was a symbolic one, the men know well that the occupation which controls every aspect of their life had no intention of letting the Santas through.
As marchers reached the wall, screaming to be allowed through, they were blocked by fully armed soldiers who know well that cameras from agencies around the world were pointed at them. Because of the imagery, the soldiers have more allowance to the men, who, on a normal day in normal clothes would have been arrested or worse for daring to march up so close to Israeli soldiers.
Instead, the soldiers held back for sometime, pushing the Santas back, screaming insults. Eventually, Israeli forces retreated behind the wall, shooting tear gas from concrete towers.
“We knew this would happen,” one of the Santas told Mondoweiss. “We didn’t expect to be allowed through, but it’s important we do something to show the world what’s happening here while people are looking our city. This is Bethlehem, tear gas and soldiers and walls and occupation. This is the holy land.”
The March erupted into typical clashes, with young men from neighboring refugee camps and overcrowded communities taking to the streets, chucking rocks at a fully equipped army in the name of resistance.