Palestinians mark Christmas amid Israeli restrictions

In the last fortnight, the Israeli military imposed roadblocks in the West Bank and stormed several Palestinian towns and villages. (Reuters)
Updated 25 December 2018
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Palestinians mark Christmas amid Israeli restrictions

  • The city’s markets are usually bustling over Christmas, with thousands of foreign tourists attending religious celebrations and midnight mass, but this year traders complained that business was down

BETHLEHEM: Palestinian Christians celebrated Christmas despite Israeli restrictions. The city of Bethlehem adorned a Christmas tree in Manger Square, where the Church of the Nativity is located. 

The square hosted a number of activities, including the establishment of Santa’s Village and celebrations for children and families. 

The city’s markets are usually bustling over Christmas, with thousands of foreign tourists attending religious celebrations and midnight mass, but this year traders complained that business was down.

In the last fortnight, the Israeli military imposed roadblocks in the West Bank and stormed several Palestinian towns and villages in search of Palestinians who opened fire on its forces. 

Marwan Salibi, a salesman at an antiques shop in Bethlehem, told Arab News: “We rely on the holiday period mainly, but this year we’re witnessing weak business activity. Insecurity is one of the important reasons.”

At this time of year, the city is visited by Christians from elsewhere in Palestine. “We visit Bethlehem every year, once or twice,” Sally Awwad, from the village of Zababdeh near the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, told Arab News.

“I used to visit with my family, but now I’m with my friends from different cities. We buy souvenirs and pray in the Church of the Nativity,” she said.

“I always hope that Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, becomes a free place to be visited by Christians from all over Palestine and the world. This doesn’t happen because we live under occupation.” 

In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the YMCA on Saturday lit up a Christmas tree for the first time in years at a ceremony attended by Christians and Muslims.

“After years of not lighting the Christmas tree in Gaza, we decided this year to celebrate with the Palestinians in Gaza in a small ceremony,” said Hani Farah, director of the YMCA.

Every year, Israel issues permits for some Christians in Gaza to travel to Bethlehem, but hundreds are prevented from attending midnight mass in the city. There are an estimated 1,000 Christians living in Gaza.

In early December, the city of Ramallah lit up a Christmas tree in a joyous atmosphere in Yasser Arafat Square.

“How wonderful to meet all of our great Palestinian people, to celebrate one of our national holidays in which we shine the glorious Christmas tree, to affirm our love for each other and that we’re people of peace in Palestine and Jerusalem, which includes Christian and Islamic holy sites,” said Archimandrite Elias Awad, patron of the Greek Orthodox Church in Ramallah.

“We want to send a message to the world that we’re a people who want peace, we have our rights, we look forward to the independence of our state, we salute our national and religious days without barriers and occupation.”

The YMCA lit up a Christmas tree in Jerusalem in early December, marking the start of celebrations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a message to the world on the occasion of Christmas: “We want (Jerusalem) to be an open city for worship for all believers and followers of all religions… and for our people to exercise their right to freedom of worship in their Christian and Islamic holy places.”


Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years

Updated 32 min 5 sec ago
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Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years

  • The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize
  • The decision prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body

ANKARA: A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday.
Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organization, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said.
Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated,” Anadolu said.
The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians.
Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has condemned the coup and denied any involvement with it.
The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body.
Arslan was the former head of Turkey’s Judges and Prosecutors Union, a civil legal association that was shut down by government decree in the wide crackdown that followed the coup attempt.
Since the failed coup, authorities have formally arrested some 77,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 150,000 soldiers, civil servants and more over alleged links to the coup attempt, including alleged users of ByLock.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan was using the putsch as a pretext to quash dissent.
The government, however, says the security measures are necessary due to the gravity of the threat it faces from Gulen’s network.