Last Christmas in Jerusalem it was hard to buy a Christmas pudding or see a decorated fir tree in the Western half of the city. It’s the same this year. Interestingly, this December marks the first century of non-Muslim rule in Jerusalem since the Crusades when the Ottomans surrendered to British troops. Today, visitors find a prosperous, modern city. For some who work there, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Revelation, it is the “New Jerusalem” – appropriate for the city of Christianity’s birth, the “mother of all churches” (Mater Omnium Ecclesiarum).
The population is pushing a million and, as in the rest of Israel, the rate of unemployment is among the lowest in the world. With jobs aplenty, the Arab Christians in Jerusalem have money to purchase Christmas presents and put on a feast on Monday December 25. Wages are also considerably higher than in the West Bank.
Four miles away, Bethlehem’s 12,000 Christians (as against 20,000 Muslims) are celebrating Christmas with much festivity. But money and jobs are scarce. The challenges facing the city of Jesus’s birth are many. With unemployment at nearly 23 per cent, Bethlehem has the highest jobless rate in the West Bank. Because of this, some Christians and Muslims are considering emigrating. Contrary to what is commonly thought, political reasons are not the main motivation. Issa Kassissieh, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the Holy See, says Christians are well treated in Palestine. They have equal rights and occupy senior positions in the Palestinian Authority.
Apart from the wall, the problem is inadequate jobs – or tourists who stay and spend money. Consequently, the tourist industry fails to provide enough work. The estimated contribution of the tourism sector to Palestine’s GDP is only six per cent and in the whole of the West Bank tourism employs less than 33,500. Much to the despair of locals, many tourists who come to Bethlehem stay at hotels in Israel and just visit the Church of the Nativity on a bus tour for a matter of hours.
As usual there is the giant Christmas tree in Manger Square, the Latin (Roman) Catholic Midnight Mass, processions, bands and celebrations continuing until January 18. After the Catholic and Protestant Christmas on December 25, there is the Greek, Syrian and other Orthodox Christmas on January 6 and the Armenian Christmas on January 18.
Fortunately the lights on the Christmas tree in Manger Square this year have been turned on again. They were turned off for three days to protest against President Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There have been other demonstrations near the wall as well.
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