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A large illuminated Christmas stands high over the crowd in Manger Square, Bethlehem on Christmas eve, which is buttressed by the the Church of Nativity and the Mosque of Omar..(Photo by: DOV LIEBER)
PHOTOS: A look inside Christmas Eve in Bethlehem
By DOV LIEBER
12/25/2014
Both security and the holiday spirit were in abundance in Bethlehem's Manger Square this Christmas Eve, with a sprinkle of politics in the mix.
Christmas in Bethlehem this year had a noticeable shadow cast over it from the summer war between Israel and Hamas.

Tour guides complained about the noticeable drop in the amount of tourists who visited the pilgrimage site. Leonardo Sabih (not his real name), an Italian tour guide who searched for groups in the Church of Nativity--where many Christians believe Jesus was born--said this year was the worst since the beginning of his work in 2008.

 “The reason for this is the media making people believe there is a risk in coming here,” said Sabih, who requested people “come and see for themselves how safe Bethlehem is.”

Despite a strong security presence, the atmosphere itself in Bethlehem's center, Manger Square, which is buttressed by the Church of the Nativity and the Mosque of Omar, was brimming with the Christmas spirit. Those who were undeterred by the security situation were treated to a vibrant, colorful and musical experience in Christianity’s most ancient town.

A gospel choir performed on a large bright stage, behind which was written Bethlehem’s Christmas wish: “All we want for Christmas is justice.”

Girls dressed in traditional Arab festive gear gave the same message of hope from the main stage in Arabic, English, Korean, German, Spanish and Italian.

“We are a peaceful city, hoping for a better year next year,” they said. One MC from the night wished the same thing, but with one major addition, “We want a free independent Palestine with Jerusalem as our capital forever.”
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