As millions of Americans celebrate Christmas with their loved ones today, one group of people will commemorate the holiday in a state of virtual “siege.” Palestinian Christians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, are living under an occupation that is squeezing the city’s only hope for economic recovery — tourism.
The Israeli “security fence” — a sometimes 8-meter tall barrier that contains guard towers and barbed-wire fortifications that the World Court has ruled is illegal — cuts deep into the Palestinian city, and severely restricts travel and supplies. The United Nations estimates that between 50 to 70 percent of the agricultural land used by the citizens of Bethlehem has been confiscated by the building of Israel’s fence and settlement expansion. As a result of the occupation, fewer than 30 percent of visitors choose to spend the night there. ”When tourists see the wall, they think they are going into a war zone,” Adnan Suboh, a souvenir shop owner told the press. ”They are afraid.”
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have let few Christians from the Gaza Strip travel to Bethlehem to make pilgrimages for Christmas. While the Strip has nearly 3,500 Christians, the Israeli government has only offered travel permits to those below the age of 16 or above the age of 35, and “only 200 Christians from Gaza” have been allowed to make the trip.
Al Jazeera English filed this report from the city, noting that it is virtually “under siege” during Christmas. Watch it:
As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss notes, the Israeli government oftentimes disregards the human rights of its Palestinian neighbors. He suggests that threatening to suspend aid to Israel “is the only thing likely to change Israel’s behavior.”
(HT: Juan Cole)
The Los Angeles Times reports that Christians in Iraq are also facing a difficult Christmas. Scores of Christians have been targeted and murdered in recent days. “After weeks of rising bloodshed, many churches closed their doors Thursday evening or hosted few guests for a late-afternoon Christmas Eve Mass.”