Christmas in Bethlehem

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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.

Two Santas in Bethlehem
Two Santas look on toward the Israeli separation wall that lines Bethlehem city in the occupied West Bank. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
Santa dons kuffiyeh
During the march some of the Santas wore Palestinian national symbols, like the kuffiyeh scarf, to highlight their cause. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

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.

Santa in gas mask
A Santa in a gas mask confronts an Israeli soldier who blocks his freedom of movement. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
Soldiers order protesters to stand back in Bethlehem
Israeli soldiers fire off tear gas at marchers. After having pushed them back from the “frontline” of clashes. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

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.

Protesters paste poster of Manasri
Protesters paste a poster of Ahmed Manasra, a 13-year-old boy being held by Israel and charged for attempted murder after an alleged attempted stabbing attack in Jerusalem. The sign says “For Christmas I want every Palestinian child back home.” Palestinian children as young as 12 can be sentenced to time in adult prison under Israeli military law. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)

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.

Protester holds sign Christians and Muslims pray for this Christmas to be he last under occupation
Palestinian A protester holds a sign that says ” Christians and Muslims pray for this Christmas to be he last under occupation.” (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
Santas in Bethlehem
Medics, Santas and young men gather down the road after being tear gassed. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
Protester kicks tear gas canister, Bethlehem
After clashes erupt, a young man wearing a Kufiyeh and gas mask kicks a burning gas canister back towards Israeli forces. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
Protesters burn tires and throw rocks at Israeli forces during clashes after the Santa March. (Photo: Abed al Qaisi)
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Seasons best wished to Mondoweissers

Rejoice, for unto us a saviour is born:
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Fantastic photos!

Thank you so very much for this. Shame on Israel, and shame on the US of A.

Christmas wishes from Jews of the holy land

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When events like this happen I am deeply saddened and also extremely angered. How can people like John Hagee and members of CUFI,, who profess to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth and who will celebrate Christmas, support the evil, murdering, thieving oppressive regime of the government of Israel? I… Read more »

There have a number of christian Palestinian refugees that have moved into my area. Without an exception they blame the occupation, oppression and the wall for forcing them to leave their homes. Generally the blame has been placed on Israel killing the local economy leaving them with no means of… Read more »