Bethlehem’s Christmas spirit dims amidst conflict


In Bethlehem, the festive air usually filled with joyous celebrations is notably absent this Christmas. The town, heavily reliant on tourism, faces a dire situation as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recent events have led to a sharp decline in visitors.

The bustling Manger Square, typically a focal point for Christmas festivities, stands eerily quiet. Souvenir shops, usually vibrant with activity, remain shuttered. Hotels and restaurants, like the Alexander Hotel, are deserted, echoing the sentiment of business owners who express the unprecedented impact on their livelihoods.

Since October 7, Bethlehem has witnessed a surge in violence and attacks in the West Bank, further exacerbating an already tense situation. The conflict, dominating global headlines, has prompted a wave of cancellations, leaving once fully-booked establishments like the Alexander Hotel eerily vacant.

Local businesses, like the falafel restaurant Afteem, operate at a fraction of their usual capacity, catering more to local Palestinian families than international visitors. Despite the challenging circumstances, business owners express resilience, keeping doors open to provide employment for their staff.

As Christmas traditions take a backseat, a poignant mural in the Holy Family Cave reflects the somber reality. Depicting a bombed-out version of the cave where Jesus is said to be born, it draws parallels between Christ’s journey and the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The message is clear: Bethlehem’s Christmas bells ring for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Bethlehem, a symbol of peace, grapples with a subdued Christmas, emphasizing the profound impact of geopolitical events on local livelihoods. The town’s plea for peace resonates as it navigates through these challenging times.

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