As Christmas approaches, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, remains surrounded by the Israeli Annexation Wall, and strangled by Israeli checkpoints and expanding settlements.
This year, Bethlehem is challenging the closure, and siege, while the residents are trying their best to celebrate Christmas in spite of the hardships caused by the illegal practices of the Israeli occupation.
The Maan News Agency interviewed the Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarsa, who said that the holy city is strangled and that the municipality received a 50,000K donation from the government to decorate the city and prepare it from Christmas, and that most of the decorations now in place in Bethlehem are donation from different people, and an agreement with Pal Media, the Lutheran Church, and some donations from internationals.
Batarsa added that the Israeli Annexation Wall annexed at least 8,000 Dunams of the lands of the city, and totally isolated it from Jerusalem.
“Bethlehem and Jerusalem are interconnected”, Batarsa stated, “You cannot isolate them from each other”.
Batarsa also said that Bethlehem depends on the tourist sector as a main source of income and it is expected to receive 10,000 tourists this year, while in the past a minimum of 20,000 tourists would visit the holy site for Christmas.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism, Jouda Morqus, said that regardless of all obstacles, Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem will continue as usual, and that there are reservations for tourists in Bethlehem hotels, most of the tourists are Arab residents of Israel and Europeans.
Daniela Douglar, an American tourist, said that they came to Bethlehem to see the Wall surrounding it, and to see the celebrations in Bethlehem.
“I don't see joy in the eyes of Bethlehem residents, they are isolated by the Wall”, she said, “this Wall will not bring Israel security, it will only increase hatred”.
Issa Jaraysa, 11, from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, said that he and other Palestinian children do not want to see killings, destruction and hatred, they want peace everywhere in this universe.
Yet, Bethlehem remains isolated and surrounded as Israel continues its illegal policies against the people and their land.