Demonstrations in Kiev, riots in Bangkok and a “month of horror for Christians under Islam” according to a recent Gatestone Institute article, but something has caused a brief moment of light relief for both Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem; switching on the Christmas lights!
Since 1993, when the Oslo Accords put Bethlehem under Muslim municipal control, the town’s historical Christian majority has fast declined until, today, Christians are a small and declining minority there. But this hasn’t prevented them pulling out all the stops to launch Christmas officially in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.
And some launch it was, as these photos help to show. Decorations all over the town, a stage and events in the square, fireworks and a (pretend) Christmas tree to rival Trafalgar Square’s!
Paul Calvert, a Christian radio journalist, interviewed ordinary local people (mainly Palestinian Christians) and unsurprisingly found many of them wanting peace as a Christmas present. Local man Sami said that people should not only look at one side of the conflict but should look at both sides. That’s not a popular view in many places in the PA-ruled areas.
One thing that helps the Christian community to keep its identity today is the law that the Mayor of Bethlehem must always be a Christian, something a lot of people don’t know!
While there is a lot of persecution of Christians by Muslims (most of it kept quiet) in the Palestinian territories, this municipal post and the historical existence of Christian villages in the area are helping the Christian community to maintain a fragile foothold in its ancestral spiritual home.
But at least for three weeks in the year the Christians of Bethlehem can freely celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at least close to where the event actually happened “in the bleak mid-winter” so long ago!
So Happy Christmas to all our followers – and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to everyone; Palestinians, Israelis and all!All photographs copyright Paul Calvert