Pilgrims back and forth under occupation in Bethlehem

The majority arriving in buses from Jerusalem, to visit the basilica of the Nativity, where jewish tradition places the birth of Jesus, and going after hours. T

Pilgrims back and forth under occupation in Bethlehem

The majority arriving in buses from Jerusalem, to visit the basilica of the Nativity, where jewish tradition places the birth of Jesus, and going after hours. The step of the thousands of christian pilgrims each year travel to the Holy Land did not note much in the economy of the palestinian city as its residents would like. “What the impact of tourism in Bethlehem? The trash that people leave in their step...,” he says bluntly Fadi Kattan, chef franco-palestinian restaurant Fauda, making reference to the low consumption that is generated by the travelers.

Despite the propaganda, the israeli advises against travel to the area by security, the mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, says that they get groups of tourists in a growing line from 2017. “We hope that a million and a half people come to these festivals,” he says. The real effect on the economy of this municipality of 25,000 inhabitants, is more doubtful. According to George Rishmawi, an expert in tourism, of the 700 operators with permission to work in the city, only 46 are palestinians, and barely a third of visitors stay overnight in the city.

in order To attract more tourists, has restored the street of the Star, stone cobbled street that once led to the basilica of the Nativity, but the efforts are insufficient. The Vatican has made this year a novelty that favors tourism, thanks to the Pope's decision to send to the Holy Land a relic of the crib of Jesus. For believers, the shard of only 2.5 centimeters long and it is sacred.

he Traveled in a silver reliquary from the roman basilica of St. Mary Major to the Holy Land, from where he left in the seventh century before the expansion of islam. “This is the first time that you split a piece of such importance,” stresses Tomasz Grysa, counselor of the Apostolic Nunciature. Of its new location in Santa Catalina will go out alone on dates spot to be worshipped in the grotto of the Nativity.

MORE INFORMATION

A palestinian throws a stone with a slingshot at israeli soldiers, before several men dressed in santa Claus, in Bethlehem AMMAR AWAD REUTERS The wave of violence ruined the Christmas season in the Holy Land Barrier on barrier in Bethlehem, surrounded by 18 settlements, The Unesco declared out of danger from the basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem after a long rehabilitation

The arrival of the reliquary to Bethlehem coincided with the lighting ceremony of the lighting of the large christmas tree in manger square, a large public gathering that, among other musical performances, featured christmas carols performed by the young Spanish soprano Inma Guil. Among the christmas hymns and the outbursts of faith of the visitors, the christian community is facing the loss of their identity.

Bethlehem is one of the populations most affected by the expansion policy of the jewish settlements. “If left unchecked, will double the number of settlers on our land in the next decade,” warns Suhail Sami Jalilieh, a member of the centre for research on the colonies. Their backs were impressive stands Har Homa, a settlement whose uniform appearance contrasts with the dispersion of the moorish quarters. Surrounded by 18 settlements, Bethlehem is separated from Jerusalem, which is just 10 kilometres away, by the wall erected by Israel beginning in 2002. The entrance to the cradle of christianity is marked by six control posts of the Army that isolate more and more to their residents.

Kattan, chef franco-palestinian, alleged that, because of the wall and the settlements that surround Bethlehem, local entrepreneurs no longer have access to many natural resources. When asked about the food palestine, replicates while shaking the arms with emphasis: “The israelis rob us of any element of our identity, beyond the falafel”.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the christian celebration goes unnoticed. “It is a city that is indifferent to Christmas,” says sister Valentina, head of midwifery at the Hospital of San José, located in the eastern part of the city, of the palestinian majority. Although this religious catholic attends year after year to the rituals of advent, in Gethsemane, in the environment of the Holy City does not perceive a real christmas atmosphere. The christian population —a little more than 1%— suffer like the rest of the palestinians, the dynamics of the israeli occupation. “It is as if we had no right to be here,” laments a christian who prefers not to be identified“. The difficulty is not religious but ethnic, because the christians are arabs”, writes sister Valentina, on the obstacles they encounter in order to attend to the rites of christmas.

Israel has forbidden it until the last moment that the christians of Gaza, just a thousand among the two million muslims in the gaza Strip to attend the celebrations in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Army gave on the eve of christmas Eve, the first authorizations to be able to leave the coastal enclave, palestinian, subjected to blocking for more than 12 years.

Exodus in the cradle of christianity

Bethlehem designed by the artist Banksy in his hotel next to the wall of Bethlehem. MUSA AL-SHAER-AFP

Palestine has nearly five million inhabitants, according to data from the last census. Bernard Sabella, a sociologist expert in christianity in the Holy Land, holds that, of all of them, about 50,000 are christians in the occupied territories, and others to 120,000 –less than 2% of the population– are christian arabs in Israel. “Prior to 1948 (when it created the State of Israel), the christian residents in Jerusalem amounted to 35,000, today do not reach a thousand,” he said.

In Bethlehem, the figures of the palestinian christians ranging between 22,000 and 25,000 in the whole of the municipal area, and 9,000 in the town. “In 1948 the christian population in Bethlehem was a 90% of the population in contrast with the 30% today,” stated Xavier Abu Eid, communications advisor of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (PLO). He argues that part of this decline explains the Nakba or exodus of palestinian muslims to the land that is now the State of Israel, whose refugees it produced a change in the percentages of population according to religion in all of Palestine.

Another milestone of the population, according to a report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the UN, points to who, before the outbreak of the Second Intifada in the year 2000, the muslim population and christian was evenly distributed in the city centre, and that, after the siege of the Basilica of the Nativity by israeli troops in 2002, 10% of christian families have emigrated.

Updated Date: 26 December 2019, 05:00

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