Christmas in a divided Holy Land

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Christmas in a divided Holy Land

Christmas in a divided Holy Land
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Thousands of tourists and pilgrims are gathering to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.

Christmas trees are hard to come by so the municipality in Jerusalem’s Old City collects old ones to give away.

Santa Claus was on hand to distribute the free trees, but instead of elves for little helpers he had the Israeli security forces standing by.

Gift shops are open but business is far from booming.

Christians make up less than two per cent of the population in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

There are 120.000 Israeli Arabs in Israel, most of them Christians, another 50,000 Christians live in the West Bank with just just three thousand in Gaza.

But with Israel’s separation wall coiling around Bethlehem, Christian visitors coming to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ will encounter a concrete wall with watchtowers.

And with last winter’s assault on Gaza by Israel still fresh in people’s minds, the Christmas spirit seemed sadly lacking.

Arab shop owner Hussam Murtaja said: “The spirit of joy is also missing this year not only for Christians but also for Muslims. We have noticed that demand is very low and I think that is for several reasons. First, we don’t have stability, also the borders are closed, and we don’t have enough goods.”

In a message to remind the world of the separation wall’s existence, the Palestine Liberation Organisation said it symbolises a “Christmas without hope”.