There will be no Christmas display this year in the biblical town of Bethlehem.
Festivities have been canceled in the town known as the birthplace of the Savior in the West Bank area in honor of Palestinian "martyrs."
"Bethlehem Municipality crews announced the dismantling of Christmas decorations installed several years ago in the city's neighborhoods and removing all festive appearances in honor of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza," the Bethlehem Municipality announced on Facebook Tuesday.
That means for the first time since modern celebrations began, no Christmas trees or decorative lights will be on display in Bethlehem's Manger Square, said to be the location of the manger of Jesus following His birth.
A municipal spokesman told media outlets the decision to dismantle the nativity scene and other customary Christmas decorations was made in light of "the general situation in Palestine" and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
"People are not really into any celebration," the spokesperson was quoted as saying, according to Jerusalem Post. "They are sad, angry and upset. Our people in Gaza are being massacred and killed in cold blood."
Israel has been at war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip since the terrorist organization launched an Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted over 240 others. In response, Israel launched airstrikes and a ground offensive in Gaza, seeking to eradicate Hamas.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claims over 11,000 people, including thousands of minors, have been killed since the war began. The health authorities haven't distinguished between combatants and civilians in their death toll numbers. However, the United Nations World Health Organization voiced concern that women and children are "bearing the brunt" of the casualties.
Amid calls for a ceasefire, Israel maintains it has the right to defend itself from further attacks by eliminating Hamas. Israel Defense Forces contend they are doing all they can to prevent civilian casualties and accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
A muted Christmas "mass and prayer" service will still be held in Bethlehem, a town of about 25,000 people roughly six miles south of Jerusalem. Over the years, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dwindled. The National Catholic Reporter notes that Bethlehem was 86% Christian in 1950. But in 2016, that figure stood at 12%.
According to the Telegraph, the Christmas celebration in Bethlehem dates back at least as far as the early 20th century during British rule in the Palestine region.
Journalist Assaf Gibor reports that some Christians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are "angry at the Palestinian Authority" for the decision to suspend most Christmas celebrations.
The Christians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are angry at the Palestinian Authority after it decided that this year, the traditional Christmas celebrations will not take place as a sign of solidarity with the war in Gaza.— assaf gibor (@assafgibor) November 15, 2023
In the square of the Basilica of the Nativity, the… pic.twitter.com/27Fg4OZ0z0
The Church of the Nativity and Manger Square are but two popular sites in the ancient land where approximately 1 million pilgrims and foreign tourists come during the Christmas season.
During the height of the pandemic, the Church of the Nativity, a site revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and all other tourism and archaeological sites in the West Bank were shut down at least temporarily.
Catherine Salgado, a journalist who contributes to PJ Media and other conservative outlets, criticized the decision to remove Christmas displays in Gaza.
"Imagine the outcry if Jerusalem or Rome had sent crews to Muslim neighborhoods before Ramadan to remove Islamic symbols!" she wrote. "But even though Jews and Christians are the most persecuted religious groups and Islam is among the most intolerant of religions, don't expect global backlash and outrage."
"What makes this Christmas cancellation so particularly disturbing is that it is in honor of the 'martyrs,' which is Palestinian double-speak for 'terrorists killed by Israelis,'" she continued. "The heinous Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack left hundreds of Israelis dead and forced Israeli authorities to come to grips with the reality that Arabs have been refusing peace in favor of trying to destroy Israel for decades, and they're not going to change their minds now."