Empty alleyway and two blue doors

Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem

Every year, thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims flock to Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But this year, Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and across the Middle East will be dramatically toned down.

The World

By now, the streets of Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, are usually decorated with lights, adorned with ornaments and filled with worshippers and pilgrims from all over the world. 

But this year, the bell of the Church of the Nativity, which contains the grotto where most Christian denominations believe Jesus was born, rings to an empty square. There is no massive Christmas tree, as usual, and the mood is somber. 

At the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, a nativity scene shows a baby Jesus in a mound of rubble, wearing a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, while the Holy Family searches for him nearby.

A rubble mound with a doll to be Jesus meant to reflect a broken nativity scene
The Lutheran Church in Bethlehem put together a nativity scene showing baby Jesus in a mound of rubble, wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf. A leader at the church said this display is the reality of what Christmas looks like in Palestine.Rebecca Collard/The World

“This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus, the birthplace of Christmas,” said the church’s Rev. Munther Isaac, who delivered a letter to Washington last month calling for the end of the war. 

Churches across Bethlehem have canceled Christmas celebrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza, while tourism has come to a halt. And, as The World’s Rebecca Collard reports, the town’s sights, hotels and shops are seeing the economic impact.

Listen to the full story by clicking on the audio player above.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh contributed to this report.

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