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Merry Christmas from the little ghetto of Bethlehem

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Youth in Santa Claus suits light candles on a Christmas tree fashioned from barbed wire and decorated with cards bearing major milestones in the Israeli occupation of Palestine in an effort to educate Christmastime tourists visiting Bethlehem’s Manger Square.

“It is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

From The Institute for Middle East Understanding:
As Christmas approaches, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are busy decorating the city and preparing the holiday festivities. Like Christians the world over, the city of Bethlehem, which suffers under Israeli military occupation, is in the hearts and minds of Palestinians everywhere at Christmas time.

Bethlehem and its holy sites are part of a larger heritage shared by all Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and non-believers alike. In January, 2011 Palestinians submitted an application to have the Church of the Nativity (built 1,700 years ago on what is considered to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ) designated a World Heritage site. With Palestine’s recent admission as a member to UNESCO, such a move has a higher chance of success, helping to preserve this historic church for Palestinians and Christians around the world, indeed for all of humanity.

Economically, Bethlehem relies upon religious tourism for much of its income. However, Israel has largely monopolized the industry by arranging tours of religious sites and controlling the movement of tourists in and out of Bethlehem, denying many struggling Palestinian businesses much-needed access to foreign consumers.

The wall (deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice) that Israel has built runs extremely close to the city center, obstructing the movement of people, trade, and commerce. As a result, the city center has actually shrunken in size. Bethlehem’s sister city, Jerusalem, which lies just a few miles away, is now inaccessible except for the few who can obtain travel permits from Israel.

Israel’s nearly 45-year-old military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, makes a normal life virtually impossible for Palestinians living there, including those in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, it’s not all bad news. About 1 million Christian pilgrims still come to Bethlehem every year, making it one of the most visited religious sites in the region.

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Decorating Bethlehem

More beautiful photographs from Occupied Palestine during Christmas.

This post first appeared on Roqayah’s blog.

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer based in Sydney. She writes the Sharp Edges column at Shadowproof and politics at Paste Magazine. She tweets at @roqchams.

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2 Responses

  1. on December 26, 2011, 8:24 pm

    Beautiful, touching photos in the link “Occupied Palestine”.
    So many prayers, hopes for peace, understanding, love on earth.
    Is is possible to achieve, or is it some kind of mirage that was planted in our souls, but it’s never able to materialize??
    If God created the world that needs to be constantly improved, does it mean that God botched up in the first place??

    • john h on December 26, 2011, 8:53 pm

      Two questions, dumvita, it seems no one can truly answer; we see only as in a riddle and are still in the dark really.

      What we do know is that, whether we believe in God or that that is in fact some kind of mirage, we have a common hope for justice and peace, and for understanding and love.

      That is what we share with Roqayah and countless others.

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