Christmas in Bethlehem is unusually quiet this year due to the ongoing war in Gaza.
Notably, Christmas was cancelled in the city of David by church leaders due to the ongoing conflicts.
Local leaders in the city of David made the decision in November in solidarity with the Palestinian population. This was as heavy fighting raged between Israel and Hamas in the devastated Gaza Strip.
Likewise, on October 7, Israel restricted movement in Bethlehem and other Palestinian towns in the West Bank, with military checkpoints allowing access in and out, impacting Palestinians trying to get to work.
Consequently, in Bethlehem, the capital of Christmas, it has not been business as usual. This is as the festive lights and Christmas tree that normally decorate Manger Square are missing.
Further, the crowds of tourists and jubilant youth marching bands that gather in the West Bank town each year to mark the holiday have not graced these holidays, creating an air of unease.
Instead, dozens of Palestinian security forces patrolled the empty square, a reminder of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Also Read: Why You Should Go to Church on Christmas Day
Empty Streets Mark the 2023 Christmas in Bethlehem
Additionally, near the Nativity Church, which is traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, a scene of barbed wire decorated the otherwise holy place, creating an unusual sight.
The Nativity church is also quite empty this Christmas.
Normally, on Christmas, hundreds of pilgrims would crowd the church, patiently waiting to get in. Notably, the church is believed to be the exact location of Christ’s birth.
Additionally, during the festive season, a 14-pointed silver star is usually set into the marble floor to mark the precise spot where Jesus is said to have been born.
Bethlehem’s economy depends on pilgrims and tourism.
Notably, tourism accounts for an estimated 70% of Bethlehem’s income. Almost all of this revenue is earned during the Christmas season.
Therefore, the capital of Christmas will be missing out on most of this revenue this year.
A Christmas message from Francesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land also acknowledged this anomaly, noting that this Christmas has been ‘choked by the darkness of hatred and war.’
“Dear friends, this year the Grotto of Bethlehem is empty, as are the streets and squares of the city,” the Custos stated.
About the Israel Hamas War
On October 7, Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented attack on Israel and infiltrated the country by air, land and sea.
This attack led to the region standing on high alert amid fears of a wider conflict and has left thousands dead on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border.
Further, since the inception attacks, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warplanes have carried out air strikes across Gaza while its troops have moved through the territory.
Recently, at least 70 Palestinians have been killed in an air attack on the Maghazi refugee camp, which a Palestinian Health Ministry spokesperson describes as a massacre.
Additionally, there was more death and destruction in the central Gaza Strip on Christmas eve in the al-Maghazi and al-Bureij refugee camps.
During the attack, 100 people were killed with the vast majority of them women and children.
As the fighting continues, international calls for humanitarian pauses have grown, including from countries in the European Union and the Group of Seven (G7).
Additionally, members of the Arab League have pushed for a complete cease-fire.