Art installation “Christmas under the rubble” at Yaslov Square near the Church of the Nativity on December 24, 2023 in Bethlehem, West Bank. photo Getty images
The usually bustling biblical birthplace of Jesus looked like a ghost town on Sunday after Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem were canceled due to the Israeli-Hamas war.
Details: The festive lights and Christmas tree that usually decorate Mengere Square are missing, as are the throngs of foreign tourists and joyful youth bands that gather in the West Bank city each year to celebrate the holiday. Dozens of Palestinian security forces patrol the empty square.
Brother John Vinh, a Franciscan friar from Vietnam who has lived in Jerusalem for six years, says that this year, without a Christmas tree and without lights, it's just darkness.”
Vinh said he always comes to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, but this year was sad. He looked at the nativity scene in Mengere Square with the baby Jesus wrapped in a white shroud, which reminded him of the thousands of children killed in the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Barbed wire surrounded the stage, gray debris not reflecting the joyful lights and flashes of color that usually fill the square during the holidays. The cold, rainy weather added to the gloomy mood.
The cancellation of the Christmas holidays dealt a severe blow to the city's economy. Approximately 70% of Bethlehem's income comes from tourism – almost all of this income comes during the Christmas season.
Many major airlines are canceling flights to Israel and the number of foreign tourists has decreased. Local authorities say more than 70 hotels in Bethlehem have been forced to close, leaving thousands of people unemployed.