For the first time in living memory, there was no tree, no celebration and very few worshippers. The streets of Bethlehem, widely believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, usually bustling with pilgrims and tourists at this time of year, were empty on Dec 25, 2023.

A pall of gloom has descended over the city in the occupied West Bank, with the usual crowds of pilgrims staying away as Israel continues with its unrelenting and barbaric killing of the innocents in Gaza. The usual celebration, a huge Christmas tree at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, was replaced by an art installation expressing solidarity with Gazans: grey statues of Mary and Joseph placed in a pile of rubble. On the building next door hung a large banner that read: “Stop the genocide, stop the displacement, lift the blockade” on Gaza.

A huge Palestinian flag was unfolded in the centre of town, along with a banner: “The bells of Bethlehem ring for a ceasefire in Gaza”. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, arrived on Sunday at the Church of the Nativity, clad in the traditional black and white keffiyeh, which has since become a global symbol of the Palestinian cause. Bethlehem’s Mayor Hanna Hanania, added, “The deaf international community must hear our voice”. Alas, in the midst of the carnage that has claimed the lives of over 21,000 innocents, the UN Security Council and the major powers remain silent.

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