Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem fight PA over Christmas festivities

Christian residents of Bethlehem have accused the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah of attempting to “hijack” their holidays and marginalize the city’s role.

 A Palestinian dressed as Santa gestures during a celebration in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, December 2, 2021. Picture taken December 2, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
A Palestinian dressed as Santa gestures during a celebration in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, December 2, 2021. Picture taken December 2, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

The Palestinian Authority has been forced to call off a press conference that was supposed to take place in Ramallah later this week regarding the upcoming Christmas festivities after protests by the Bethlehem Municipality and Christian leaders.

Several Christian residents of Bethlehem accused the PA of attempting to “hijack” their holidays and marginalize the city’s role in organizing and overseeing the celebrations. Announcements about Christmas festivities have always been made from Bethlehem, they said.

The dispute between Bethlehem and Ramallah over Christian holidays is unprecedented.

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Ramallah. What the Palestinian leadership is doing is an insult not only to Bethlehem, but to all Christians.”

Christian tour guide, Beit-Jala

The PA’s Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine had issued an invitation to local and foreign journalists to attend a press conference at PLO headquarters in Ramallah to announce the launching of Christmas festivities in Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank. The press conference was supposed to take place on November 24.

The committee is headed by Ramzi Khoury, a veteran Palestinian official who also serves as director-general of the Palestinian National Fund, which was established in 1964 to finance the PLO’s various activities.

 People enjoy at the christmas tree lightning in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 1, 2019.  (credit: SARA KLATT/FLASH90) People enjoy at the christmas tree lightning in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 1, 2019. (credit: SARA KLATT/FLASH90)

The invitation to hold the press conference in Ramallah angered many Christians in Bethlehem, who said their municipality and local leaders and organizations have always been responsible for announcing plans for Christmas celebrations.

Outrage over Palestinian Authority's “hijacking” of Christmas

Several Christians took to social media to express outrage over the PA’s attempt to shift attention from Bethlehem to Ramallah ahead of Christmas.

“Who gave the Palestinian Authority the right to hijack our holidays?” asked a Christian businessman from Bethlehem. “Our city is the only party authorized to do so. This is extremely ridiculous.”

A Christian tour guide from the town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, said: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Ramallah. What the Palestinian leadership is doing is an insult not only to Bethlehem but to all Christians.”

Bethlehem Municipal Council members held an emergency meeting on Monday night to discuss repercussions of the PA committee’s decision to hold a press conference in Ramallah regarding the upcoming Christmas festivities.

Over the past few decades, the Bethlehem Municipality has been the only party entitled to arrange and launch Christmas festivities in the Holy Land, the Municipal Council members said in a statement after their meeting. The municipality was planning to hold its own press conference on Christmas Eve, as has been the case for several decades, they said.

“The [Bethlehem] Municipal Council strongly rejects attempts to circumvent the legitimacy and historic right of Bethlehem to arrange and hold the Christmas celebrations in its capacity as the birthplace of Jesus,” the statement said.

Earlier, the Bethlehem Municipality issued its own invitation for a press conference on November 26 to announce plans for Christmas festivities in the city.

Several Christian organizations and institutions in the Bethlehem area issued statements in which they expressed full support for the Bethlehem Municipality in its standoff with the Ramallah-based PA leadership.