BETHLEHEM – In the birth town of Christ, preparations are in full swing ahead of the forthcoming Christmas holidays, with the concern of keeping balance between the spirit of joy relating to the festivities and the atmosphere of tension prevailing in Israel and in Palestine.

 The richly decorated Christmas tree is taking a prominent place at Manger Square, and is brightly illuminated. Decorations decorate the streets of the town, but are less obvious than usual, and for good reason : the festivities of this year come under the sign of “moderation”. Many scheduled events were cancelled. In lieu of the traditional fireworks, the churches of Bethlehem resounded their bells, Saturday 5 December, for the sake of peace.

This choice reflecting a certain soberness is to be explained by the recurrence of violence noticed since few months in the Holy Land, which caused the death of at least 123 persons – 105 Palestinians and 17 Israelis – since the 1st of October. “While celebrating Christmas, we celebrate as well Life, Joy and Hope, but we should do that in a spirit of compassion with those who suffer, and of respect for our dead”, stated Vera Baboun, Christian Mayor of Bethlehem. “The situation is critical, she further said, but we should keep on crying louder our message of peace, the message of a town which however does not know peace”.

Procession of the Patriarch

The procession of the Latin Patriarch will take place as usual. On 24 December, His Beatitude Fouad Twal will leave Jerusalem, with a halt at Mar Elias Monastery, will cross the Separation Wall and will finally arrive in Bethlehem. This solemn entry will mark the start of Christmas festivities. “It is good to see these traditions still running on, despite the situation”, Fr Jamal Khader, Rector of Beit Jala Seminary, said with satisfaction. This procession of the Patriarch,

from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, should run as a “spiritual trip”. “Despite the Wall, these two towns, that of the birth of Christ and that of his death and Resurrection, are inseparable”.

Christians concerns

Asked about the situation of Christians of the Holy Land, Fr Khader points out that the number of Christians “is not important”. “For me the question should be : what sort of presence should we rise up to ? which testimony should we give” ?

The Rector of Beit Jala Seminary says his concern facing the rise of the Jewish extremism, denoted by the recurrence of attacks and acts of vandalism against Christian and even Moslim places of worship. “These attacks bother us a lot, and worse the impunity of their doers. These criminals are known by the authorities but are not followed up”. “What state of law in Israel, and mostly for whom?” “These groups threaten coexistence between religions, The state of Israel should do something, and mainly protect its citizens”.

On Sunday 29th November, members of an extremist right group and anti-assimilation Lehava had demonstrated in front of YMCA of Jerusalem against the holding of Christmas bazaar, denouncing the “killing of Jews”, pressing Christians to leave the Holy Land.

Manuella Affejee
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem