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A ‘sombre’ Christmas in the Holy Land

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(Photo: Getty/iStock)

“A ceasefire and peace – these are the two things I want for Christmas,” says Brendan Metcalfe, chief executive of Friends of the Holy Land.

Months of war between Israel and Gaza are taking a “terrible” toll on the entire region, with devastating consequences for people in the West Bank and Bethlehem who rely on tourism.

Christmas in Bethlehem is muted this year, with pilgrimages and the usual festivities cancelled and Baby Jesus placed in the rubble instead of a manger in church nativity scenes.

The timing of the war couldn’t be worse for the many Christians who work in the tourism industry.

“First they had the Covid lockdown, then there were all the travel restrictions after Covid, so it was only really this year that pilgrimages had started to return and business was picking up again.

“Now that’s all gone with the start of this terrible war between Gaza and Israel and it is very, very tough for people in the West Bank,” says Brendan.

Adding to the difficulties are the reported arrests of people in the West Bank since the outbreak of the war, causing Palestinians to “live in fear”.

Furthermore, a complete lockdown of the border with Israel has made it impossible for people left unemployed by the collapse of the tourism industry to find alternative work.

“Before the closure of the border, people who weren’t able to find any tourism work in Bethlehem were able to go to Israel and work there as labourers. Now they can’t do that so there is absolutely no work for them and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” says Brendan.

With so much heartache in the land where Jesus was born 2,000 years ago, he is not surprised that the mood is “sombre” this Christmas.

Friends of the Holy Land is doing what it can to help, distributing financial aid and practical support for Palestinian Christians who are out of work and struggling to put food on the table.

A special song, “Hear Angels Cry”, by music artists Ooberfuse and Youstina, has been helping to raise awareness and funds in the run-up to Christmas. There is also a selection of prayers for the Holy Land from across denominations that Christians are being encouraged to use.

But Brendan also wants Christians to reflect on their own response to the conflict. He feels that the “unwavering support” for Israel among some Christians is only fuelling the war and should be tempered by calls for restraint and peace. Otherwise, he fears there will soon be no Christians left in the Holy Land. 

“The founding communities of our own Christian faith are suffering in this war. The Christians in Gaza are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and this is the very land where Jesus walked.

“Wherever you are as a Christian in the world, you must have concern for the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

He is fearful that the war with Israel will push many Christians out of the Holy Land.

“Many Christians have lost their homes, they’ve seen members of their congregation killed, and they’re living in a place where even before the war it was very difficult because of Hamas. What incentive is there for them to stay?

“The fact is that this community of Christians, which dates back almost to the time of Christ, is facing obliteration and what are we doing about it as Christians around the world? Not much, as far as I can see.

“These places where Jesus conducted his ministry will soon become museums if we allow this to continue.”





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