regular-article-logo Friday, 21 June 2024

Lost Christmas

New York, Lapland, Reykjavik, Nuremberg, Greenland, Prague — every year hundreds of travel sites put out lists of top global Christmas destinations. This year, that list is poorer by one

Upala Sen Published 24.12.23, 07:57 AM
Representational image

Representational image Sourced by The Telegraph

Bethlehem in the West Bank is said to be the birthplace of Christ. The mainstay of the city has been tourism. Christians and non-Christians alike visit the Church of the Nativity, Chapel of the Shepherds' Field, Church of Saint Catherine… It has been this way for a long time. According to an essay from 1897 published in The Biblical World, which is a journal: “Although it is almost exclusively a Christian town, its inhabitants live by the trade they carry on with visitors, and no sooner does the traveller dismount in the square before the Church of the Nativity than he is surrounded by a shouting crowd of men — there are said to be ninety different establishments manufacturing souvenirs —- each endeavouring to force his victim within his little shop.” Those days, on Star Street in Bethlehem, they used to sell olive wood candlesticks and necklaces, carved mother of pearl, cups from the black stone of the Dead Sea, all at “twice their Jerusalem price”.


In 2022, Bethlehem witnessed a footfall of around 1,50,000 and reportedly three million visitors overall. All that had been Covid-decimated was resuscitated —- hotels, souvenir shops etc. etc. And then came October of 2023. Early October, Israeli occupation forces sealed off all entrances to Bethlehem. In time, cruise ships started to avoid Israel’s shores and major airlines stopped flying to and from Israel. November remained violent. The Israeli army raided the Aida refugee camp in the governorate of Bethlehem. Aida camp, which was established in 1950, houses a population of close to 3,000 within an area of 0.71 kilometres. It might be located next to a four-star-hotel, but itself is deserving of no star. It has poor sewerage, poor access to water and no hospital. No Christmas tree has been erected in Bethlehem’s Nativity Square. Church leaders have cancelled public Christmas celebrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza. One church in Bethlehem has depicted the Nativity scene thus: baby Jesus lying in rubble.

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