‘Bethlehem is empty of joy – no Santa, no celebration’

The atmosphere in Bethlehem is heavy with absence.

Christmas celebrations have been cancelled this year and the thousands of tourists and pilgrims who would normally fill Manger Square are nowhere to be found.

“The city is empty from happiness, from joy, from kids, from Santa. There is no celebration this year,” says Madeleine, a resident of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

The famous Christmas tree, usually in the middle of the square, is not there. There are no carols or Christmas market stands.

Instead, a nativity scene, which shows a newborn Jesus surrounded by big rocks and barbed wire, has been installed as a tribute to the children of Gaza.

In an unusually empty Nativity Church, Father Eissa Thaldjiya tells me his 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 says.

“We have brothers and sisters in Gaza – this is what makes it difficult to celebrate… But it’s good to be united in prayers.”

Jawdat Mikhael lives in Bethlehem, but his family is trapped in Northern Gaza. His parents, brother and dozens of other relatives have been sheltering in the Holy Family Church near Shejaiya in the east of Gaza City – an area devastated by Israeli bombardment.

Source: BBC

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