GAZA: Mourning over the war in Gaza has dampened the festive mood in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, when the biblical city was usually decked out in holiday finery.
There was no revelry on Sunday, a day before Christmas, with few worshipers or tourists on the streets of the Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, which according to Christian tradition was the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Celebrations in the Holy Land were mostly canceled in solidarity with the people of Gaza, who are living through the deadliest war ever to engulf the besieged Palestinian territory. A lot of people are dying in the country and it is really hard to celebrate when people are dying.
The artwork, evoking the tragedy of war, is installed on the ground opposite the Church of the Nativity, replacing the life-size nativity scene and huge Christmas tree that would normally stand there.
On the building next door is a large banner reading: “Stop the Genocide, Stop the Displacement, Lift the Blockade.”
The war broke out when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on October 7, killing around 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostages, according to the statistics based on Israeli figures.
Israel, however, responded by vowing to eliminate Hamas, and its military campaign, which included massive aerial bombardment, killed around 25,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. In the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, an estimated 1,000 Christians took refuge in churches.
Last week, a mother and daughter were killed by an Israeli sniper at the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City, according to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa as he addressed the people of Gaza during midnight mass.
Palestinians in Bethlehem have been demanding an end to the conflict.
In normal years, the town is awakened by a festive procession with bagpipes and tambourines. But this year, people took to the streets quietly.
In the morning, a huge Palestinian flag was unfurled in Manger Square, held at both ends by Christians and Muslims.
A giant Palestinian flag is hoisted outside the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on Christmas Day.
Hostilities in Gaza have spread to the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, where more than 300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7.