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Mideast Unrest Overshadows Christmas in Bethlehem

  • Robert Berger

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, attends a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, early Friday, Dec. 25, 2015.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, attends a Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, early Friday, Dec. 25, 2015.

The Palestinian Authority is hosting Christmas observances in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. But the turnout is sparse.

Celestial sounds and fragrant incense filled the Church of the Nativity during Christmas Mass here in Bethlehem. Nearby, the faithful visited the ancient grotto where tradition says Jesus Christ was born.

Kyle Google came from Iowa in the United States to visit the holy land.

“It’s a neat experience to see where Jesus was born. Just to think about everything that happened here historically, it was a very special moment in history.”

Palestinian stone throwers run to take cover after Israeli security forces fired tear gas canisters during clashes following a demonstration next to the Israeli controversial separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 18, 2015.

Palestinian stone throwers run to take cover after Israeli security forces fired tear gas canisters during clashes following a demonstration next to the Israeli controversial separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 18, 2015.

But Christmas has been overshadowed by three months of Israeli-Palestinian violence, so it was a poor turnout this year.

In Manger Square, Palestinian shopkeeper Hanna Abu Eita is waiting for tourists and pilgrims who never came.

“There are no tourists in this Christmas," she said. "Nothing, nothing, nothing. Everything is so bad. The situation between the Palestinians and Israel (is) bad.”

Father Jamal Khader, a Palestinian priest, blames the Israeli occupation.

“People are tired and they don’t see any future of peace. And I see it as a sign of despair.”

But Bethlehem’s message remains the same.

“This is my message that living here together, living in peace, is possible. Yes, it is possible,” Khader said.

Despite a gloomy Christmas, hope springs eternal in the little town where it all began for the Christian faith.

A nun prays inside the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015.

A nun prays inside the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015.

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