BETHLEHEM , West Bank, Christmas ceremonies went on in Bethlehem, West Bank, despite months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
The largest event in the city’s Manger Square attracted several thousand people Thursday evening, a smaller crowd than usual. Other Christmas events were canceled or reduced in scope.
Tourists noted a sense of tension despite the traditional lights and festivities of the holiday.
Earlier Thursday, three Palestinians were killed in stabbings and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank, Israeli officials said. A hospital spokesman confirmed a fourth person was killed in an incident with Israeli soldiers in which one soldier and two Israeli security guards were injured.
While Bethlehem is relatively safe at Christmas, vendors and hotels reported disappointing sales. Hotels which typically have 90 percent occupancy at Christmas have been half-full this year, and the city is suffering an economic recession with a 25 percent unemployment rate and a 20 percent poverty rate.
“We suffer from the highest rate of unemployment, of poverty, in the West Bank,” said Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun.
The city is also experiencing a wave of burglaries, with a 43 percent increase in the past several weeks of property crime.
At the Church of the Nativity, regarded as Jesus’ birthplace, the midnight mass Thursday went on with a letter from Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem Fauad Twal, who attended the ceremony.
“Recently, many painful incidents had happened in our beloved [Middle] East, and [are] still happening here and everywhere in the world. We can assert on that we lost our humanity and our spiritual values. Being religious has become a reason for killing by the name of God instead of being a motivation for mercy and brotherhood. Our beloved brothers, during this night, that the kindness of our savior had appeared during, lets pray to our God. We trust, not our behaviors but his mercy,” his letter read.
By Ed Adamczyk