Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday arrived to Bethlehem as thousands flocked to the holy city for Christmas celebrations, despite a day of violence in the occupied West Bank. The president, as well as Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, participated in holiday festivities in Bethlehem’s Old City before attending a midnight mass at the Church of Nativity.
Prior to his visit, Abbas in a statement prided the integral role of Palestinian Christians in creating a “rich and diverse society” for hundreds of years, and praised steps taken among the Christian community internationally in the fight to end Israeli military occupation.
“This year, we witnessed more churches around the world supporting the call for recognition of the State of Palestine, and an increasing number of Christian groups campaigning to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of our land,” the president said.
Despite sending a message of hope for the “city of peace,” Abbas lamented the violence and ongoing violations by the Israeli military that tarnished this year’s Christmas season. Four Palestinians had been shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in the hours before Abbas arrived to Bethlehem. Three were killed after carrying out separate attacks on Israeli military, injuring three, while another Palestinian was killed during clashes.
“This Christmas comes during a particularly difficult period, when international intervention is desperately needed to protect the Palestinian people,” Abbas said.
The president said that in Bethlehem especially — surrounding by eighteen illegal settlements and cut off by the separation wall — Israeli policies continue to “destroy” the possibility for a two-state solution.
While Bethlehem — believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ — is usually massed by tourists during the holiday season, recent violence across the occupied Palestinian territory warded off visitors this year, devastating the livelihoods of local Palestinians who depend on the influx of religious pilgrims.
Celebrations by the Palestinian Christian community itself were also tamped down, in light of the violence that has left over 130 Palestinians dead since the beginning of October. MAAN