Bethlehem, the West Bank city that Christians celebrate as the birthplace of of Jesus, has effectively canceled its annual celebrations for the Savior this year due to the deadly war in Gaza.
Thousands of tourists and pilgrims who would normally fill Manger Square in Bethlehem are nowhere to be found, the BBC reported on Dec. 24.
"The city is empty from happiness, from joy, from kids, from Santa. There is no celebration this year," the BBC quoted Madeleine, a resident of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank as saying.
The city's famed Christmas tree, generally in the middle of Manger Square, is not there. The customary carols or Christmas market stands are not there.
Rather, said the BBC, a nativity scene, showing a newborn Jesus surrounded by big rocks and barbed wire, has been installed as a tribute to the children of Gaza.
The conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas, viewed as a terrorist group in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada and others, launched an unprecedented cross-border attack on Israel.
Hamas launched a highly organized stealth assault.
It bulldozed the border fence between Gaza and Israel in multiple places, caught Israel's security apparatus off-guard and overwhelmed military defences, seizing hundreds of hostages in a bloody rampage through Israeli civilian areas.
EMPTY NATIVITY CHURCH
Father Eissa Thaldjiya told the BBC in an unusually empty Nativity Church, that the famous city feels like a shadow of itself.
"I've been a priest in this church for 12 years. I was born in Bethlehem, and I've never seen it like this - even during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.
"We have brothers and sisters in Gaza - this is what makes it difficult to celebrate... But it's good to be united in prayers."
Ali Thabet told CNN, "My son asked me why there's no Christmas tree this year, I don't know how to explain it."
Thabet and his family live in Al Shawawra, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem, and visit each Christmas "because our relationship with our Christian brothers is a strong relationship."
He explained: "We join them in their celebrations, and they also join us in our celebrations. But this year's holiday season is very bad."