Bethlehem Christians outraged over Palestinian attempt to ‘hijack’ Christmas

Several local Christian organizations and institutions publicly backed their city’s pushback against the almost-completely Muslim Palestinian Authority. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Bethlehem Christians are outraged over what they call an attempt by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to sideline their city’s role in the upcoming Christmas festivities, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine in Ramallah had called a press conference for Thursday to make announcements regarding official plans for the celebration of the holiday. However, the department canceled it after the Bethlehem municipality met Monday night and decided to protest the move.

“The [Bethlehem] Municipal Council strongly rejects attempts to circumvent the legitimacy and historic right of Bethlehem to arrange and hold the Christmas celebrations in its capacity as the birthplace of Jesus,” its statement said.

For decades, the municipality added, it has been the only group authorized to both plan and kick off the festivities, which begin well before the annual church services marking Christ’s birth on December 25th.

It had issued its own invitations to the foreign and local press for this coming Saturday to reveal the city’s arrangements for the holiday season.

The tiff between Bethlehem and Ramallah over Christian holidays is “unprecedented,” wrote Khaled Abu Toameh, the award-winning, Jerusalem-based Arab journalist.

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Several local Christian organizations and institutions publicly backed their city’s pushback against the almost-completely Muslim PA, he wrote, and individuals took to social media to protest as well.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Ramallah. What the Palestinian leadership is doing is an insult not only to Bethlehem, but to all Christians,” wrote one Christian tour guide from nearby Beit-Jala.

“Who gave the Palestinian Authority the right to hijack our holidays?” a Bethlehem businessman posted. “Our city is the only party authorized to do so. This is extremely ridiculous.”

‘They live in fear’

Bethlehem has seen a sharp decline in Christian residents since being incorporated into the PA thanks to the Oslo Accords. The Christian population has dropped from a high of 84% of the town in the 1920s to some 22% as of 2020.

One of the reasons for this decline is that the Christian community has been terrorized by local Muslims.

Jihad Watch, a project of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, reported last year on the vicious attempted murder of a Christian Bethlehem gynecologist by a man linked to PA intelligence, Khader Odeh. The report said that Odeh has been throwing bombing and shooting Christian houses and burning cars in the Bethlehem area for four years, without fear of being jailed by the authorities.

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As of 2019, the Maronite church in Bethlehem had been seriously vandalized six times, according to its Facebook page, including an arson attack in 2015 that caused it to close for some three years to undergo repairs. It is not the only church property to have been damaged in the town, and there have been several reports in recent years of Muslim mobs invading local churches during services, frightening the congregants with their violence.

In a 2016 report for the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank, award-winning journalist Lela Gilbert wrote, after visiting with Christian families in the town that in Bethlehem, that Christians “aren’t simply marginalized; they don’t just suffer discrimination. Too often, they are threatened and intimidated; injured or even killed. They are cautious. They are uneasy. Many of them live in fear.”

They “are at risk of being detained by authorities based on vague accusations,” she added. “An ‘interview’ with local officials may lead to stern threats or, even more frightening, to an arrest on trumped-up charges.”