Middle East

A subdued Christmas in uncertain times for Palestinians

Christmas celebrations take on political hue for Palestinians as violence overshadows festivities

A subdued Christmas in uncertain times for Palestinians

By Anees Barghouti and Kaamil Ahmed


In the midst of the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem on Thursday, there was a nativity scene quite unlike others around the world. 

The display in Manger Square, near the site where Jesus Christ was thought to have been born, was adorned with the used cannisters of sound grenades and tear gas and set at the foot of an ancient olive tree that was uprooted by Israeli forces from its home in the nearby village of Beit Jala. 

The overtly political display, placed prominently among the crowd, was a reflection of Christmas celebrations that were subdued after three months of violence that has killed 135 Palestinians and 24 Israelis or foreigners since October. 

“We re-planted the tree near the Church of Nativity and decorated it with Israeli tear gas and stun-grenades used against Palestinians during the current Intifada [uprising],” Mazen al-Azza, an activist with the Palestinian National Initiative, told Anadolu Agency. “We decorated this olive tree with the names of our martyrs to deliver a message to the world; that Palestinians celebrate Christmas with blood as long as the occupation is here in the land of peace.”

The tree, thought to be 2,000 years old, was revealed by Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun earlier this week and dubbed the “Freedom Tree.”

In the run-up to Christmas, Baboun admitted that the usual festivities had been scaled down and though marching bands still led the celebrations, all agreed the crowds were far lighter than usual, with noticeably less foreign tourists than previous years. 

Christian tourism to Palestine is a major contributor to the Palestinian economy, especially at Christmas time, but many avoided the trip this year because of the ongoing violence. 

However, Eugene Quane, 41, told Anadolu Agency that he and his family decided they would make the trip from France to Bethlehem, where they stayed with a Palestinian family.  

“We met with some Christian pilgrims in Istanbul and they convinced us to celebrate Christmas in the city of Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born,” said Quane. 

“Despite the grief for the souls of the dead Palestinians, everybody here smiles at your face,” he said. “This land deserve peace, not killing.”

“Unlike usual, few people celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem [this year] because of the current situation. Israel restricted movement between Palestinian cities,” said Bethlehem resident Christine Saliba, 32. “Israeli forces killed four Palestinians today [Thursday] while the whole world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, who came with the message of peace and love for the entire world.”

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