Every year, thousands of people from all nationalities visit Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas in the place where Jesus was born. The ceremony has become a national occasion in addition to a religious one, celebrated by all Palestinians—Christians and Muslims alike.
The Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Rula Ma’aya says that the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem this year improved significantly compared to last year, when the deteriorated political situation, led to the “Third Intifada,” which resulted in the killing of over 250 Palestinians by Israeli Forces.
Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, says that the theme for this year’s Christmas celebration is “mercy,” since this is precisely what is needed for the Palestinian people and for the children who have been struggling for survival under the longest occupation in modern history.
Public Relations Representative for Bethlehem Municipality, Carmen Ghattas, emphasized the particular struggle of Christians living in Palestine, who, due to the Israeli occupation, now represent less than 1.5% of the population. She commented, “We are Christian, Arab, and Palestinian, and that’s why we do our best to stay here. Because this is our land.”
President of Palestine Medical Relief Society and Secretary General of the Palestine National Initiative, Dr. Mustafa Al-Barghouthi commented on the UN Resolution that passed on Friday which demanded an end to Israeli settlements, stating that the positive vote represents a good opportunity for Palestine to enhance its many campaigns working to end the occupation.
Dr. Barghouti emphasized that the fact that the resolution was saved at the last moment by four non-Arab countries—Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, and voted for by the majority of participating nations, signals increased broad-based international support. He commented that the resolution, which closely resembles one passed in apartheid South Africa, is “an issue for humanity, not just for Palestinians but for the whole world.”
The resolution was resurrected after Egypt withdrew it under political pressure. Dr. Barghouti says that although it was a mistake for Egypt to cave under political pressure, they corrected their mistake by voting positively for the resolution, “We want all Arab countries now to join us in no cultural or economic cooperation with Israel,” emphasizing that the Palestinian people need to end their political divisions if they are to benefit from the resolution.
Assistant minister on European Affairs ambassador, Dr. Amal Jadou Dr. also commented on the passing of the UN resolution saying that two state solution is the internationally accepted solution to the conflict and that this vote represents a reaffirmation of that principle. She emphasized that the Palestinian message must now be one of unity, in which political and regional divisions are set aside, “We must build consensus among the international community so as to enable them to take a stand against a country who is violating international law.. We want 2017 to be the year that ends the occupation and that is what we are working toward.”
Palestinians celebrate with hopes of having a better new year, and despite all the indicators that show more bias towards the Israelis in the newly elected US administration, Palestinians still confirm that they will never lose hope.
Esperanza Moreno contributed to this article