Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
A picture shows the Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity, in the Palestinian holy city of Bethlehem, on December 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2020

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
  • Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays

GAZA CITY: Palestinian authorities will continue following the “usual protocol” in their Christmas celebrations, despite the increasing number of people infected with coronavirus in the Palestinian territories.

But the celebrations will not happen in their normal form - in the presence of pilgrims from around the world and Palestinian Christians. Instead they will be limited to a small number of officials and clerics.

Anton Salman is the mayor of Bethlehem, where the largest Christmas celebrations are held. 

He said this year would be different because the city would not witness the regular festivities, despite the decision to go ahead with the religious rituals.

“We cannot cancel all celebrations, but the usual protocol will continue to be followed, but the public's attendance will be limited while following safety and prevention measures,” Salman told Arab News.

Normally there are many celebrations, starting with the lighting of Christmas trees and continuing until religious rites are held in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve in addition to other activities, the most important of which is the holding of carols in Manger Square by international and local groups. These performances are canceled this year.

Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays, with the participation of Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh via video call.

The tree was lit without public participation or revelers in the square, in compliance with the health measures being followed to tackle COVID-19. Attendance was limited to social media and the presence of a few people and members of the municipality.

“Together we defeated international plans to annex our land and legalize settlements, and we will defeat settlement and occupation, and we presented a message about political steadfastness in the face of the colonial occupation pandemic, and the seizure of our money, and a message on national steadfastness in the face of the disease pandemic,” Shtayyeh said during the ceremony. “The Palestinian has lived the pain of the past, with courage and defiance, living the present, and hoping for a better future surrounded by patience and resistance toward the state, toward a free and full Palestine united with its people.”

This Christmas, Bethlehem is empty of the foreign tourists who used to flock to it and other Palestinian cities throughout the year.

“Last year this square marked Christmas with a solemn celebration, with a distinguished presence, and with official, popular and international participation and today, as we celebrate Christmas, we seek it with hope and optimism,” Salman added. “So we resorted to modern technology and the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, hoping that hope and optimism would continue to flutter around Palestine and the world.”

The mayor said there was a commitment to safety standards in order to protect everyone and that the city had chosen a slogan that differed from previous years.

“We wish the light of life for everyone on our level as Palestinians, and the world, to get rid of the pandemic.” 

Other Palestinian cities, Ramallah and Jerusalem, witnessed the lighting of Christmas trees during December in the presence of a limited number of church officials and clerics.

The Palestinian territories have recorded more than 120,000 cases of coronavirus since March, with the first cases being recorded in Bethlehem, while the number of infections has recently increased in West Bank cities.

The Palestinian government imposed strict measures during the past two weeks in West Bank cities to limit the spread of coronavirus, including the comprehensive closure of some cities, the separation of governorates, and the partial closure of official institutions.

Israeli police prevent Dome of the Rock repairs

Israeli police prevent Dome of the Rock repairs
This picture shows the Dome of the Rock at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2018, after the site was reopened. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 31 sec ago

Israeli police prevent Dome of the Rock repairs

Israeli police prevent Dome of the Rock repairs
  • Council set to denounce action that is ‘violation of understandings’

AMMAN: Israeli police have stopped workers from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf from renovating the Dome of the Rock for two consecutive days, raising tensions in the old city.

Azzam Khatib, director of the Jordanian Waqf department in Jerusalem, informed Jordan’s Ambassador in Tel Aviv Ghassan Majali and Minister of Waqf in Amman Mohammed Khalaileh of the news.

Israeli officials claim the decision was made after an individual tried to renovate the ceiling of the Bab Al-Rahmeh mosque, which Israel has demanded Muslims to vacate, without reason.

The Jerusalem Waqf Council is expected to issue a strong statement denouncing the Israeli action, calling it a violation of understandings.

Bassam Hallaq, the Waqf engineer in charge of the renovation, said that Israeli police stopped work on the gold-plated Dome of the Rock on Saturday and Sunday, and prevented urgent electric work, too.

Israel insists that any renovation or repair must be pre-approved. The renovation is not structural.

Arab News has learned that the Israeli actions on Saturday and Sunday followed the efforts of an unknown Palestinian whose face was covered, who climbed the roof of the Bab Al-Rahmeh mosque in order to apply cement to stop leaks.

Israel has forbidden any repair work on the mosque.

Hallaq said that all repair work in the entire Al-Aqsa compound has also been suspended by Israel.

The mosque’s engineer insists that the Waqf has no cement materials inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and that Friday was a holiday when staff did not work.

Sheikh Omar Kisswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told reporters that repairs to the entire 144 dunum Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa mosque compound were the right of the Islamic Waqf and that the Israeli police have no right to interfere in their work.

A spokesman for the Israeli police told Arab News that the “subject isn’t under the responsibility of the Israeli police.”