Bethlehem lights Christmas Tree in muted event

LIGHTS on the Christmas tree erected in Manger Square outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem were turned on this weekend in a muted event.

Only a few dozen people, including local authorities and religious leaders, attended the ceremony for the lighting of the Christmas tree in the biblical city, an annual event normally attended by thousands in the place where Christians believe Jesus was born. A small crowd of journalists was also present.

Many other people watched it online due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, attended in person and said that the Palestine is receiving the New Year with the determination to “confront the (Israeli) occupation more firmly” and end the internal political division with the rival Hamas terrorist group.

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said Christmas is being observed this year like never before. “We resorted to modern technology and to the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree” Salman said. “We will not risk the lives of our people in order to be festive. Life and health of people are more important for us and gathering of people in the streets will increase the risk of infection.”

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists typically visit Bethlehem during the Christmas season, bringing much-needed cash to the area, but this year, there are none. Some 7,000 people are out of work, and dozens of hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants and handicraft factories remain closed.

The West Bank, with a Palestinian population of more than 2.8 million, has a night curfew and has been in lockdown, has officially recorded 71,703 coronavirus infections, including 678 deaths.

Some 1.5 million tourists visited the area last year, waiting in line more than two hours to visit the grotto believed to be where Jesus was born, located in the Church of the Nativity.

The city expected more than 2 million visitors this holiday season, but international tourists have not been allowed to enter Israel or Palestinian territories since March.

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Jennifer Leighfield

Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics. Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.