With tensions high and strict curfews, it looks as though the town of Jesus’ birth will see little fanfare as his birthday approaches.
Bethlehem has been under a strict curfew since Nov. 22, which means people are not allowed to leave their homes for any reason, according to Religion News Service. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“All shops and schools are closed, as well as pharmacies and work places,” read a newsletter from Bethlehem’s Christian community released by Baptist World Aid. “There is no possibility for Christmas shopping, there are no decorations, and one cannot go to church!”
According to News24.com, a South African news source, this is the first time since 1994 that Jesus’ birthplace has been under Israeli occupation during the holiday.
News24.com reported that Mayor Hanna Nasser, a Palestinian Christian, said that in protest of the troops’ presence the Bethlehem municipality will not put up Christmas lights or decorate the Christmas tree in Manger Square, opposite the Church of the Nativity.
Israeli diplomatic sources said troops in Bethlehem would keep “normal security procedures in place” while allowing Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Israeli Christians into the city for Christmas, according to Reuters.
BWA officials have met different Christian leaders from Israel over the past year, and have intervened on political, humanitarian and residency issues. Now it is doing what it can to help make Christmas brighter in the little town of Jesus’ birth.
The organization recently sent a gift to the Shepherd’s Society Relief Fund at Bethlehem Bible College, according to a news release by the group.
“Responding to a request for further assistance, BWAid is now sending a further $10,000 to the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, for distribution through the same channels during this Christmas season,” read the release. “Other donations received by BWAid will immediately be sent on.”
In the meantime, Bethlehem Bible College is urging Christians to remember the town of their Savior’s birth in their prayers.
“I pray that you will sing this beautiful song (‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’) and that its meaning will bless your Christmas,” read the college’s newsletter, “but before you do please think of the suffering Church in Bethlehem and say a prayer that the curfew will be lifted and the siege on Bethlehem will end.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.
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