By Sulaiman Basharat – Bethlehem
Despite chocking Israeli restrictions, preparations are in full swing in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, to celebrate Christmas.
"We want to bring joy to the hearts of our people," Bethlehem municipal chief Victor Batarsa told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, December 20.
"We are trying to create a favorable atmosphere for the pilgrims and tourists and draw a smile on the faces of the residents of the occupied city."
The city of 185,000 has put on its Christmas best to welcome the pilgrims and tourists.
Garlands of flickering lights, synthetic pine trees, fake snow and other Christmas favorites give a festive feel to the city.
Souvenir sellers carved Nativity scenes, crosses, rosaries and other religious items, set up inflatable Santas and blow-up snowmen outside their stores.
"Every year, we celebrate Christmas to preserve our heritage and history," Yusuf Goukman, a bizarre owner, said.
Christmas is the main festival on the Christian calendar. Its celebrations reach its peak at 12:00 PM on December 24 of every year.
Christian pilgrims flock to Bethlehem every year in this period to join Christmas at the historical Nativity Church, built on the site where Jesus is said to have been born in a stable.
But the Christmas joy is marred by the crippling Israeli restrictions in the occupied city.
"The Israeli occupation is determined to destroy our celebrations," Batarsa said.
"The city is suffering under siege with Israeli checkpoints installed at the city’s entrances.
"There are also daily incursions, settlement expansion not to mention arrests and house demolitions."
The separation wall Israel is building is also adding to the suffering of Bethlehem residents.
The barrier, a mix of electronic fences and concrete walls, isolated the city from Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem), confiscated farm land, uprooted olive trees, and helped to quicken emigration and keep unemployment at more than 50 percent.
However, Bethlehem residents are maintaining their Christmas joy.
"This land is ours. Our ancestors were born and lived in this city. This is a holy land," said Goukman, the bizarre owner.
Nineteen carnivals will be held in the occupied city to celebrate Christmas.
"The Israeli measures will not deprive us from enjoying the Christmas joy," Batarsa said.
"This joy is our right and the right of our children."
Also Read: Christmas under Occupation.
– Sulaiman Basharat is an IslamOnline correspondent in the West Bank. (Originally published in IslamOnline.net)