Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, were reduced this year amid security concerns related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, led a small procession of monks to a mass in the West Bank, and Midnight Mass was held in the Church of the Nativity, considered the exact birthplace of Christ. The town, however, which would usually be thronged with tourists in December, was deserted.
There was also no tree-lighting ceremony, no music, and no decorations in Bethlehem this year. Franciscan monk John Vinh said, “There’s just darkness.”
Bethlehem is located in the Judean Hills, around 5 miles south of Jerusalem, inside the Palestinian West Bank, and around 50 miles from the Gaza Strip. Some religious leaders are accusing Israel of conducting “genocide” in Gaza and say celebrations are therefore inappropriate. “It is impossible to celebrate when our children are being killed and massacred in Gaza,” said Reverend Munther Isaac, who claims that warfare is affecting the entire region.
The war, the deadliest in Gaza’s history, began on October 7 when Hamas terrorists crossed into Israeli territory and killed more than 1,200 civilians. Over Christmas, fighting intensified, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a long and bloody conflict.
Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Israeli parliament that the country is engaged in a “multi-arena” war and is being attacked by several enemies at once. “Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran” are all in conflict with Israel, he said, before warning that there is no “immunity” for those who attack the Jewish state.
Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, told CNN that while there are differences between Israeli and American approaches, both sides are keen to see the end of Hamas. Regev added that it is only a matter of time until Israel secures victory, and there can be no rebuilding of Gaza until the terror group is eliminated.