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Christmas in Bethlehem: Christians gather at Church of the Nativity despite violence

ESTRIN: Yeah, I think it’s a – it’s – maybe you could say it’s a rare occurrence when you’re looking at the entire region here in the Middle East. But yes, there were Christians and Muslims together taking selfies in front of the large Christmas tree. Nearby, the municipality raised a tree with shimmering lights on December 5, but like other Palestinian cities, refrained from fireworks. One reporter who was there has called it “the contradictory little town of Bethlehem“.

A subdued Christmas adds to an already hard year for Palestinian Christians, who have suffered the full brunt of Israel’s policies, most notably land seizures and, for those in Jerusalem, the revocation of residency rights.

Christian pilgrims from Nigeria pray inside the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. “Things on the ground are really tough”. A Palestinian hospital official says another Palestinian died in clashes with Israeli troops. Israeli authorities said three Palestinian assailants were killed as they carried out or tried to carry out stabbing or car-ramming attacks against Israeli security personnel. Many of the Palestinians were attackers, while others were killed in clashes. Two Israeli safety guards & a soldier have been wounded.

“Our Christmas this year is engulfed by the horrific situation on the ground”, said Baboun, adding that the major religious festivals, processions and ceremonies will still be held in and around the city.

Smaller crowds came out to Bethlehem’s Manger Square to celebrate Christmas Eve, 2015.

The location is revered as the birthplace of Jesus.

“Nearly everyone has emigrated”, said Raffoul Rofa, the executive director of the Society of St. Yves, the Latin Patriarchate’s legal arm. “18 to 19 scout groups are participating”.

“Every day, the people of Bethlehem are harassed by Israeli forces, but despite all the problems and killings, we will make Christmas be a happy day for the kids”.

She said 12 of her relatives lost their homes when IS took over Iraq’s second city Mosul in 2014 and ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay a heavy tax as second-class citizens or face death. “We wish that peace would come to the world and Palestine gets free…so many wishes”.

Tensions running high in the occupied Palestinian territories. His shop offers a range of traditional Palestinian crafts including olive wood statues, Christmas decorations, icons and locally made embroidery.

“It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”,'” she will say.

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