Bethlehem/Internet/Hyderabad, Dec 25 (Hydnow): The birthplace of Lord Jesus Bethlehem resembled a ghost town, as Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem were called off due to the Israel-Hamas war.
The festive lights and Christmas tree that normally decorate Manger Square were missing, as were the throngs of foreign tourists and jubilant youth marching bands that gather in the West Bank town each year to mark the holiday. dozens of Palestinian security forces patrolled the empty square.
“This year, without the Christmas tree and lights, there’s just darkness,” said Brother John Vinh, a Franciscan monk from Vietnam who has lived in Jerusalem for six years.
The cancellation of Christmas festivities is a severe blow to the town’s economy. Tourism accounts for an estimated 70 percent of Bethlehem’s income – almost all of that during the Christmas season.
With many major airlines canceling flights to Israel, few foreigners are visiting. Local officials say over 70 hotels in Bethlehem have been forced to close, leaving thousands of people unemployed.
Gift shops were slow to open on Christmas Eve, although a few did once the rain had stopped pouring down, however, there were few visitors.
“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 family-owned falafel restaurant just steps from the square.
Salmeh said Christmas Eve is usually the busiest day of the year. “Normally, you can’t find a single chair to sit on, we’re full from morning till midnight, ” said Salameh. This year, just one table was taken by journalists taking a break from the rain.
Under a banner that read “Bethlehem’s Christmas bells ring for a cease-fire in Gaza,” a few teenagers offered small inflatable Santas, but no one was buying. Instead of their traditional musical march through the streets of Bethlehem, young scouts stood silently with flags. A group of local students unfurled a massive Palestinian flag as they stood in silence.
“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,” Bethlehem’s mayor, Hana Haniyeh, said in an address to the crowd. (Hydnow)
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