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Bethlehem’s Silent Night

CHRISTMAS is cancelled in the streets, if not the churches, of Bethlehem.

CHRISTMAS is cancelled in the streets, if not the churches, of Bethlehem.

As Israel announced its troops would remain on the streets of Christ’s birthplace, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be barred from attending celebrations, church and civic leaders announced festivities would be kept to a minimum.

Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser said there was no stomach for festivities in a town whose 30,000 Palestinian inhabitants have nothing to spend, little to eat and are forced to stay in their homes.

“Our infrastructure, our buildings, streets and pavements have been  destroyed. We are not able to fix the millions of dollars of damage because the Israelis have only lifted the curfew for a few days in the last three weeks,” said Mr Nasser, a Christian. “Nobody feels like  celebrating.”

The Israeli Government insists tanks and troops must remain on the streets  to ensure security for its own citizens after a wave of suicide bombings.    Israeli armour rolled back into Bethlehem after a Hamas suicide bomber  living in the city killed 11 bus passengers in Jerusalem on November 21.

Israel said while Mr Arafat’s presence would be prohibited for the second year running, Bethlehem would remain open to everyone else. Until last year, Mr. Arafat, a Muslim married into a prominent Christian family, had attended every Christmas mass since 1995.

Mr. Nasser said the Israeli action broke a tradition dating back to the British mandate, and subsequent Jordanian and Israeli control, that dignitaries were invited from the ruling authority.

Israel accuses Mr Arafat of cynically portraying himself as a guardian of Christian shrines, while allowing Muslim gunmen to make the Christian population’s life a misery.

Clerics in the 4th-century Church of the Nativity insisted midnight mass and other ceremonies would remain unchanged. But in a town where 60 per cent of the population is dependent on a tourist trade that vanished upon  the outbreak of the intifada, storage rooms inside the church are filled  with charity parcels of flour, pasta, pulses and wheat.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, a spokesman for the Franciscans, said: “Across the world, billions of people will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, but here, at the centre of all this attention, Christians cannot celebrate.”

An Israeli court has sentenced a Palestinian to 35 life terms for  masterminding three bombings that killed 35 people, including five US citizens. Wa’al Kassam confessed to planning the attacks at Jerusalem’s Moment Cafe in March, a nightclub in the coastal town of Rishon Lezion in May and at a cafeteria at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in July.

2002-12-17T00:00:00+00:00 December 17th, 2002|Categories: News|