Tourists, political leaders, activists and residents of Bethlehem gathered right in front of the Nativity Church Thursday night with an unusual message. While December is usually a time for cheerful Christmas celebrations at the Nativity, this year the people of Bethlehem have been unable to put aside the political turmoil for the sake of the holiday.
With Christmas just days away, the city of Bethlehem erected what they call a “Resistance Tree.” The tree, an olive tree which was recently uprooted by Israeli forces from a nearby neighborhood, was placed in the center of the main square, overlooking the towering Christmas tree and historical Nativity church. Instead of baubles and tinsel, the Resistance Tree was decorated with tear gas canisters clinking together like bells, photos of Palestinians recently killed or detained, Palestinian national scarves and sling shots.
At the “lighting ceremony,” the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun spoke to the crowd, “This tree is our message,” Baboun said. “We plant our roots and we are rooted to this land. Olive trees are the trees of life. We see our people’s eyes and the hopes of our women and the dreams of our men reflected off this tree.”
Around the tree, activists laid tear gas canisters in the shape of a star, lighting candles from the metal cylinders which were collected after protests in the city with Israeli forces.
“Even with the Israelis speaking a language of death, we speak a language of life,” the mayor proclaimed.