It may be Christmas in Bethlehem but the marching bands – a legacy of British occupation in Palestine – parade in the shadow of a concrete wall complete with watchtowers.
A wall – according to the Palestine Liberation Organisation – that symbolises a “Christmas without hope” for the ancient city where normal life is fragmented and stifled by Israel’s security apparatus.
Bethlehem’s Mayor Victor Natarseh said: “Yes our people are still under sanctions. This separation wall is separating the city. Unfortunately there were no changes on the siege, there are more restrictions. It is negatively affecting the economy of the city, the health of the people living here, and all sectors of this holy city.”
Meanwhile at the Vatican, Midnight Mass is being brought forward to 10pm tonight to ensure the Pope has enough energy to deliver his Christmas message the following day.
Pope Benedict XVI needs “time to rest” before his duties on Christmas Day, say Vatican officials.
It is the first time the traditional ceremony has begun at a time other than midnight and will ensure the Pope is refreshed in time for his blessing from St Peter’s at noon.