Holy Land : a Christmas under the sign of soberness
BETHLEHEM – In the town of Christ’s birth, preparations for Christmas are in full swing, with the concern for keeping balance between the spirit of joy of the festivities and the atmosphere of tension in Israel and Palestine.
The richly decorated Christmas tree stands on Manger Square, and is brightly illuminated. Decorations adorn the streets of the town, but are fewer than usual, and for good reason: the festivities of this year come under the sign of “moderation”. Many scheduled events have been cancelled. In lieu of the traditional fireworks, the churches of Bethlehem were ringing their bells on Saturday, December 5, for peace.
This choice for a certain soberness is due to the escalation of violence in recent months in the Holy Land, which caused the death of at least 123 people – 105 Palestinians and 17 Israelis since October 1. “In celebrating Christmas, we celebrate life, joy and hope, but we must do so in a spirit of compassion with those who suffer, and respect for our dead,” stated Vera Baboun, Christian mayor of Bethlehem. “The situation is critical, she added, but we must continue to express our message of peace louder; the message of a city which, however, does not know peace. “
Procession of the Patriarch
The procession of the Latin Patriarch will take place as planned. On December 24, His Beatitude Fouad Twal will leave Jerusalem, with make a stop at Mar Elias Monastery, cross the separation wall and will finally arrive in Bethlehem. This solemn entry will mark the start of Christmas celebrations. “It is good to see these traditions remain, despite the situation”, says Father Jamal Khader, rector of seminary in Beit Jala. He continued to say that, “This procession of the Patriarch, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, should should be seen as a “spiritual journey”, despite the Wall, these two towns, that of the birth of Christ and of his death and Resurrection, are inseparable”.
Concerns of Christians
Asked about the situation of Christians of the Holy Land, Father Khader points out that the number of Christians “is not important, for me the question should be: what kind of presence should we be ? which testimony should we give” ?
Father Jamal expressed “concern about the rise of Jewish extremism, manifested by the recurrence of attacks and acts of vandalism against Christian and Muslim places of worship. These attacks worry us, but even more the impunity of perpetrators. These criminals are known to the authorities but are not prosecuted,” he observed before wondering: ” What is the rule of law in Israel, and especially, for whom? These groups threaten coexistence between religions. The state must do something, especially to protect all citizens”
On Sunday, November 29, members of an extremist right and anti-assimilation group, Lehava demonstrated in front of the YMCA of Jerusalem against the holding of Christmas bazaar, denouncing the “killing of Jews”, and pressing Christians to leave the Holy Land.