BETHLEHEM, West Bank, The Church of Nativity, honored as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, opened its annual nativity scene and Christmas display to the public this week with quiet regard instead of lively celebration.
Bethlehem is experiencing a significant dip in the number of foreign visitors this Christmas season due to recent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in the surrounding area, affecting local morale and family-owned businesses.
“Bethlehem is all about peace. It is a city of peace, but it is a walled city,” Mayor Vera Baboun told Catholic news outlet Crux Now. “The situation here is very contradictory. Every year is becoming worse. We lit the Christmas tree, but with sadness. A word like sadness should not even be expressed in Bethlehem,” he said.
Small groups of Christian pilgrims continue to visit the church and the nearby Manger Square, but not enough to sustain the local economy, reports say.
Recent civil and violent signs of unrest between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as ongoing conflict with the Isis in Syria and Iraq, are reportedly thwarting would-be travelers to the Holy Land. On Friday, a group of Palestinian advocates costumed in Santa Claus suits clashed with authorities in the city. Although 114 Palestinians, 19 Iraelis and one U.S. citizen have died from similar clashes in recent months, International Business Times observes no deaths were reported.